By William Engel
“Fear, Love and Agoraphobia” is a sobering, poignant story of two people struggling to break free from their respective prisons – one confined by mental illness, the other by grief.
The film follows two different people, whose lives converge about one-third through. The first, a man named Chet (Dustin Coffey), suffers from severe agoraphobia, or fear of sunlight and going outside. Chet is left on his own when his parents move out of their shared home to a new home in Utah, leaving him with the house and enough money to sustain himself. However, Chet’s primary obstacle isn’t financial, but psychological; for him, even a routine trip to the grocery store is an ordeal. As such, he rents out his parents’ room and looks for a roommate, who will hopefully be willing to run his errands for him.
The second is an ex-marine named Maggie (Linda Burzynski), who came back from Iraq to find out that her husband went to prison for killing a man (allegedly in self-defense). Left without financial support or the necessary training to find work, Maggie was left homeless, sleeping in a van belonging to her bartender friend, Francis (Lori Petty). After Maggie starts a fight at Francis’ bar, the latter gets fed up and reclaims her van, forcing Maggie to look for a new place to stay. As fate would have it, she happens across Chet, and the two of them start living together.
The strongest aspect of the film is its drama. The struggles of Chet and Maggie are both treated with the seriousness and maturity that those subjects merit, without veering into melodrama. The film doesn’t downplay the effects of Chet’s phobia or Maggie’s grief, but the characters aren’t solely defined by those problems; they’re fully realized characters who just happen to find themselves in compromising situations.
Furthermore, at no point does the film try to give the characters an easy escape from their problems, or force a happy ending at the expense of realism. For instance, when Maggie notices that Chet’s been making some progress in overcoming his fear, she decides on a whim to drive him to the mall without letting him know ahead of time. To say that it ends poorly would be an understatement; Chet has a panic attack and chews her out for trying to force him out of his comfort zone. All the same, Maggie’s actions aren’t presented as spiteful or thoughtless, but misguided; she’s a well-meaning friend who genuinely wanted to help.
And that’s really what this story amounts to – a tragic turn of events between two people who are ill-equipped to handle it. It’s a harrowingly realistic – but ultimately uplifting – slice of life.