Thursday, November 24, 2011

A French Bon-Bon: Romantics Anonymous

Chocolate is the food of romance and indulgence. Two social misfits still love it anyway. They might just love each other too, if they can psyche themselves up enough to take a chance. That will be a very big “if” in Jean-Pierre Améris’ Romantics Anonymous (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Angélique Delange is a gifted chocolatier, but she is paralyzed with shyness. Through sheer force of will, she manages to apply for a job at a down-market chocolate company, run by the gruff but ragingly insecure Jean-René Van Den Hugde. Sensing a fellow chocolate devotee, Van Den Hudge hires her on the spot. Unfortunately, it is for a sales position she is spectacularly unsuited for. Having accepted already, Delange tries to timidly carry on as best she can. Eventually though, Delange realizes she must use her true talents to save the floundering company.

Working under a veil of secrecy, Delange once made confections that delighted French gourmets. However, when her protective boss died, the secret of his chocolatier “hermit” died with him. Yet, resurrecting the old hermit cover proves relatively easy. Going on a date with the boss is devilishly difficult, for both of them.

Like chocolate, Anonymous is sweet film with a hint of bitterness to make it real. While everyone plays it for laughs, Améris and co-writer Philippe Blasband never minimize the challenges of the would-be couples’ extreme social awkwardness. They are not portrayed as freaks or loons, but as people who need a little more encouragement to come out of their shells (granted though, Van Den Hugde certainly has his eccentricities).

Benoît Poelvoorde (probably still best known for the unsettling Man Bites Dog) is fantastic as Van Den Hugde, showing an aptitude for broad comedy while keeping the character totally grounded. Likewise, as Delange, Isabelle Carré engagingly projects both a brittle vulnerability and an arresting innocence.

Combining elements of food porn with the underdog romantic comedy, Anonymous was one of the most commercial international selections at Tribeca this year, which might be why they picked it up for their distribution arm. Sensitively helmed by Améris, it is a completely satisfying film, giving the audience what we want (even if it is predictable on some level). A real charmer, Anonymous opens tomorrow (11/25) in New York at the Quad Cinema.