Saturday, 3 December 2011

Romantics Anonymous (Jean-Pierre Améris, 2010) Review

Benoît Poelvoorde and Isabelle Carré are emotionally challenged... Romantics Anonymous

Romantics Anonymous is a film about good, kind-hearted people who deserve to find love. They are timid and sweet, and share a passion for chocolate; its smooth, silky embrace comforting them from the lurking dangers of the outside world - a conversation, for example. See, Jean-René (Benoît Poelvoorde) and Angélique (Isabelle Carré) are emotionally challenged, which means that they fear everything the world has to offer. The Capra-esque universe of Améris' film (which could easily be re-titled as The Chocolate Shop Around The Corner) means that these people are destined for love, and the director employs just about every clichéd scenario in the rom-com handbook to bring them together. There's a dinner date, for example, and a montage where their shared passions allow for a moment of bonding. Heck, the film even ends with a public declaration of love, preceded by a frantic dash across town. But the film's idiosyncratic leads ensure that every familiar scenario is imbued with an appealing freshness. The dinner date, which in Howard Hawks' screwballs would be the backdrop to rapid-fire one-upmanship, is here a catalogue of escalating embarrassments, ending on Jean-René's flustered escape from a bathroom window. The cause of his panic? A frilled shirt.

In my haste to praise Romantics Anonymous I've forgotten to mention its plot. Jean-René is the boss of a small chocolate factory which is nearing bankruptcy. Angélique is the new girl hired as a sales rep, but who believed she was applying for the position of chocolate maker (some years earlier she wooed the town as an anonymous chocolatier, now believed to be Salinger-like hermit). Her pathological shyness prevents Angélique from selling any chocolates, but on the day she decides to quit Jean-René asks her to dinner (upon the advice of his deadpan therapist). You can map out just about every genre beat from this point on, but the fun of Améris' film lies in the joyousness with which it hits them. I know I'll be about the 743rd critic to do so, but I'd like to draw a comparison between Romantics Anonymous and a Mercier caramel. Both are finely crafted, sweet and easily digestible, if a little lightweight. Some people have employed this as a criticism, but sometimes the sweetness of a Mercier carmel is more than enough for a film to aspire to. So many rom-coms today (particularly those from the US, it must be said) are crass and broadly etched, preferring knockabout sexes warfare to something gentle and honest; a film like When Harry Met Sally (Reiner, 1989), for example, which is one of the great American love stories. Romantics Anonymous embraces its genre - even its saccharine excesses - with open arms, and with it creates an endearing portrait of two lovable souls who so desperately want and need each other. We pray for them to get together. We laugh at their blundering and are moved by their sincerity. This is a film which exudes warmth from every frame, and therefore should be celebrated.

Poelvoorde and Carré are magnificent as the central couple, who are each unaware that the other shares their own affliction. Jean-René stumbles his way through life, in the dinner date scene displaying the heart of a James Stewart beneath the panicked exterior of a Jacques Tati, as he constantly seems to be teetering on the edge of a full-blown nervous breakdown. In the press notes Améris confesses that his model for Carré was Ginger Rodgers, but there's also a delightful scene where Angélique skips down the Parisian streets like Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music (Wise, 1965), singing "I Have Confidence". The actors have perfect chemistry (they previously worked together on Anne Fontaine's Entre ses mains, 2005), allowing room for moments of spontaneity and naturalism to shine through the scripted dialogue. The scene after Angélique has wowed the factory by whipping up a new line of chocolates is adorably awkward, with the characters lingering beside each other in the hope of intimacy, but neither bold enough to make the first move. You should be able to predict the final shot within ten minutes of the film beginning, but it won't matter one iota that you're right. By the time it arrives you'll have been completely swept up by its limitless charms. Warm, funny and moving, Romantics Anonymous may be slight, but it's one of the most purely enjoyable movies I've seen this year. Seek it out.

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