Though it manifests itself in many ways depending on the person, Social Anxiety has perhaps become more prevalent now than in recent times, with the apparent near-epidemic levels of mental health issues such as depression and general anxiety disorders.
Are these issues truly reaching a peak, or has the nature of modern society made it easier and more acceptable to talk about these issues? Or, further still, has modern society bred a much more isolating environment for these debilitating mental health issues to develop?
The films on this list contain at least one character who exhibits clear signs of Social Anxiety, and though most are more contemporary films, all provide some sort of comment on the increasingly alienating society that has lead many to suffer needlessly at the mercy of their own minds. The films are in no particular order.
1. Adaptation – Spike Jonze (2002)
Written by the infamous and spectacularly introverted Charlie Kauffman and directed by longtime collaborator Spike Jonze, Adaptation was essentially borne of anxiety.
Kauffman was originally hired to write an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, but instead wrote a fictional film about how hard it is to write an adaptation—among many other things.
Starring Nicholas Cage as twin brothers Charlie and Donald Kauffman, and featuring brilliant supporting performances from Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, Adaptation is many things, but most immediately it is a story of a depressed, lonely and creatively frustrated man named Charlie who sees people like his outgoing brother Donald succeed so easily, while he digs himself deeper and deeper into a psychological hole of his own making.
A must see for writers and artists of any medium, this film will make you uncomfortable in the best way.
2. The Station Agent – Tom McCarthy (2003)
Written and directed by actor and Academy Award-winner Tom McCarthy, 2003’s The Station Agent stars Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage in an early starring role.
After the death of his boss, cynical and emotionally isolated little person Finnbar McBride (Dinklage) inherits a train station in rural New Jersey where he meets a variety of characters who try to break down his extremely thick social barrier.
With fantastic performances by Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, Bobby Cannavale and of course Dinklage himself, this film is a poignant and engaging dramedy about just how easily the cruelty of others can debilitate people, and just how powerful compassion and friendship can be.
3. Eagle vs Shark – Taika Waititi (2007)
From the always hilarious New Zealand director Taika Waititi, and written by fellow Kiwi star Loren Horsley, comes one of the funniest films ever made about nerds in love.
Horsley plays Lily, a socially anxious fast food worker with a crush on the impossibly nerdy but supremely cocky Jarrod, played by Jemaine Clement (one-half of the legendary Kiwi comedy duo Flight of the Conchords). As the two bond over a shared love of videogames and dressing up as predatory animals, Lily follows Jarrod back to his hometown where he aims to confront his childhood bully.
Running the gamut of social, psychological and relationship anxieties, Eagle vs Shark is often at its absolute funniest when stewing in the awkwardness that comes from human interaction. Cohen Holloway at times steals the show as Jarrod’s terminally shy “computer hacker” friend Mason.
As Waititi’s debut film, Eagle vs Shark begins in earnest the career of one of contemporary cinema’s finest comedic directors and situates him alongside Jane Campion as one of New Zealand’s master storytellers and friend of the socially-maligned.
4. Housekeeping – Bill Forsyth (1987)
Housekeeping tells the story of two sisters dealing with the suicide of their mother and the isolation that comes with growing up in a broken home in rural Idaho in the 1950s.
As the two girls grow up, the introverted and nervous Ruth (Sara Walker) begins to be left behind by her more gregarious younger sister Lucille (Andrea Burchill). When their strange Aunt Sylvie (Christine Lahti) comes to take care of them, the residents of the conservative town and the increasing efforts of Lucille to fit in to society begins to tear the already thinly-bound family apart, causing Ruth to spend more and more of her time in the woods with the resourceful and rebellious Sylvie.
Directed by Scotsman Bill Forsyth and based on the 1980 novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping is a wonderfully sensitive look at social isolation, both self-imposed and otherwise.
5. Year of the Dog – Mike White (2007)
Perhaps best known as a frequent character actor and prolific screenwriter, (School of Rock, Nacho Libre, The Good Girl) the brilliantly versatile Mike White finally made his directorial debut in 2007 with the comedic and touching Year of the Dog.
Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon stars as Peggy, an extremely friendly, yet terminally lonely and introverted woman who begins a life of animal rights activism after the untimely death of her beloved dog, Pencil.
A breakthrough role for Shannon, White’s film also features Jon C. Reilly, Laura Dern, Josh Pais, Regina King, and Peter Sarsgaard as Peggy’s love interest, a dog trainer and avid animal lover named Newt.
Chock-full of awkward and relatable social encounters, and touching on a variety of political, sexual and psychological issues, Year of the Dog should have spelled the beginning of a long line of White-directed films, though we would have to wait until 2017’s Brad’s Status to see another film written and directed by this singular voice in modern American cinema.