The romantic comedy usually adheres to a fairly rigid set of rules, placing two characters who appear to have nothing in common into a contrived situation where they initially get on each other’s nerves, but overcoming a few obstacles that are thrown in their way to test the path of true love, they eventually discover that they actually really like each other, fall in love and live happily ever after. In that respect, there’s nothing particularly new about Romantics Anonymous (Les Émotifs Anonymes), which is a pretty good example of the genre done French style, where the emphasis is more on the comedy than the romance – and on that level it mostly succeeds in its aims.
And it’s a good thing that the film works on the comedy level, because Benoît Poelvoorde and Isabelle Carré don’t really come across as the ideal match for one another on a romantic level. As Jean-René and Angélique however, they have quite a few things in common, the most notable being their love for chocolate. Oh yes – when you can’t convince on the romantic front, there’s always the option of stirring the desires through that other unfailing method of French delicacies. With Jean-René being the manager of a small artisan chocolate manufacturing business and Isabelle Carré (it just so happens) being a master chocolatière – and no less than the legendary mysterious confectioner, supposedly mountain-dwelling hermit, behind a once successful chocolate brand whose name has died with the owner – what better match could there be to overcome all the significant obstacles that face them?
Significant problems they most certainly have, mainly personal ones relating to sociability. Instead then of employing Angélique as the mastermind behind the revival of his failing brand, Jean-René’s failure to carry out a proper job interview and Angélique’s lack of assertiveness and inability to cope with stressful situations (so bad that she attends an Emotives Anonymous group) lead to her being employed as a salesperson to try to expand, or even retain, the business’s dwindling customer base. If they can’t even manage to communicate on a business level, what chance is there for this couple of social misfits ever being able to get it together romantically?
That’s the set-up of Romantics Anonymous and, bearing in mind the lightweight, tongue-in-cheek, never-taking-itself-seriously, demanding-suspension-of-disbelief nature of the film, it’s not a bad little idea for a situational comedy – one that is bound to result in the kind of humorous misunderstandings and awkward moments that will eventually bring them together. It’s hard then to identify just why the end result isn’t as satisfactory as it should be. Carré is all bright-eyed perkiness and vulnerability, Poelvoorde wonderfully twitchy, bringing a strong sense of subtlety and comic timing to his displays of physical discomfort and a degree of adorable charm that you can’t help but feel sorry for him - so both of them are more than capable of making light-hearted material like this work. They both even get little musical interludes that are delightful without going overboard into full-blown musical mode.
It’s just that, well, the viewer is left in a similar position to Jean-René and Angélique’s respective confidantes among the employees of the chocolate factory and the other members of the Emotives Anonymous group. Everyone knows what is going on between the two main personalities, even if they don’t know it themselves, and they helpfully nudge them in the right direction. It’s as if the match is inevitable, when in fact it’s hardly ever established that they have anything deeper in common than their social inadequacy and their passion for chocolate. The viewer likewise has a sense of feeling, "oh, just get on with it" and, like a wonderful chocolate delicacy, Romantics Anonymous wraps up this delicious but nutritiously negligible confection perfectly.