What could so easily have fit the Chocolat mould has come out with about as much depth as a box of Milk Tray.
Jean-Pierre Améris’ slight confectionary comedy may take after François Ozon’s recent charmer Potiche in both style and tone, but its saccharine flavour won’t excite everyone’s tastebuds.
Chocolate-factory owner Jean-René’s (Benoît Poelvoorde) business and reputation are melting faster than fudgesicles in a furnace. The problem is that his devoted team of chocolatiers simply isn’t up to scratch, but he’s about to be thrown a lifeline in the beguiling form of Angélique (Isabelle Carré).
Despite being a natural cocoa whiz, Angélique comes forward as a sale rep with bright ideas for whisking some oomph back into Jean-René’s floundering venture. Which she does, without much fuss, after convincing her boss to fast-track a new signature choc into production. Secretly, Jean-René is seeking a life partner, but he’s too awkward to make a move and Angélique is too shy to signal her reciprocal affection.
As Améris hones in on the will-they-won’t-they? sideplot, Romantics Anonymous takes a bland turn. For a director known for delivering hyper-emotional drama often driven by exigent protagonists (see Les Aveux de L'Innocent and Bad Company), it’s surprising that Améris gives Carré and Poelvoorde so little to work with. Thankfully, his lead pair saves his blushes, fleshing out their cagey duet with a tender chemistry that’s never less than convincing.
What could so easily have fit the Chocolat mould has come out with about as much depth as a box of Milk Tray. And without the stylistic assurance of an Amélie or Ozon’s abovementioned delight, it simply doesn’t have enough going for it to make you want to go back for more.
Still, at least Romantics Anonymous does exactly what it says on its ribbon-bound tin and, at a trim 80 minutes, it’s as short and sweet a slice of Gallic romance as you could hope to come across.
Life is sweet.
A sugar-coated change of tack from an underrated filmmaker. Won’t win Améris many new fans, though.
Those who like their French cinema sans schmaltz will have to look elsewhere.