Most of us experience some form of social anxiety. We may feel nervous before a social gathering or slightly agitated during group activities. In the extreme, social anxiety compromises the ability to connect to another person in an intimate relationship. Jean-Pierre Ameris’ 2010 French film “Les Emotifs Anonymous” is a comedic but meaningful study of what happens when two exceptionally socially anxious people fall in love at first sight and try to connect. Crippling anxiety leads both Angelique (a gifted chocolatier) and Jean-Rene (her manager at a chocolate company) to spend generous portions of the film reciting positive affirmations, listening to anxiety management cassettes and attending group and individual therapy sessions.
When Jean-Rene tells his shrink that he has fallen hard and fast for Angelique, the therapist gives Jean-Rene the assignment that he must invite someone to dinner. Poor Jean-Rene has grown so isolated that the thought of sharing a meal — let alone a kiss — with another individual is downright terrifying. Desire trumps his anxious reservations and Jean-Rene awkwardly asks Angelique to dinner. He is so stressed about the plans that he brings a briefcase full of clean shirts on the date in anticipation of sweating through them all. (Angelique is no stranger to intense anxiety as evidenced through her habit of fainting anytime she receives unexpected attention.) What unfolds from here is a humorous study of two neurotics who are determined to overcome the patterns that hold them back from finding love.
While viewers may grow annoyed watching Angelique or Jean-Rene let anxiety get the better of them, it is unusual to find a film that spotlights the complicated challenge of managing anxiety disorders. This film was panned by the critics for its fluff — but reading the reviews I got the impression that the reviewers had exceptionally high tolerance levels for anxiety and could not relate to the psychological challenges chronicled through the film. If you do not struggle with anxiety, then this is not the film for you. However, for those who do, there is a degree of truth beneath the fluff that compels. For example, I notice that clients often share a common fantasy about the anxious rituals that isolate them. Many times, they imagine that meeting the right person will keep anxiety at bay; in this mode people risk putting difficult conflicts on the back burner in hopes that they will be effortlessly fixed at some later date through the devotion of another. What this film does well is challenge this common fantasy. These two lovable characters’ passion and appreciation for each other only heightens and exacerbates their anxiety. Angelique and Jean-Rene’s efforts to connect force them to face the patterns of isolation that have held them captive. If you experience significant social anxiety — especially if your anxiety makes it difficult to connect with others on a romantic level — this film could offer both comic relief and memorable inspiration.