Oscar-nominated screenwriter Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are All Right) steps behind the camera for the first time with this sympathetic portrayal of sex addiction. Through his lens, one experiences a world of temptation for those trying to stay sober: low-cut blouses and short skirts everywhere, on billboards and on living ladies (usually to the beat of a marching-band drum corp)—without blaming the objects of their lust. Sex addiction isn’t a joke in Thanks for Sharing; it’s a disease. But it’s not handled without humor, either—with witty dialogue and sharp references—resulting in a warm, funny and poignant portrait of a misunderstood affliction, even as it glosses over the uglier bits.
At the center of the film is Adam (Mark Ruffalo), an environmental consultant whose ascetic lifestyle has earned him a five-year medallion. His day starts with prayer and proceeds with no television, computer or smartphone, even when he’s traveling. He’s ready to start dating again when he meets the beautiful and driven Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), but his hang-ups about sex may throw a wrench in the works before they have a chance to get going.
Ruffalo is immensely likable, so it’s easy to fall for him despite Adam’s distasteful addiction. In fact, it’s hard to even imagine him behaving the way he describes—the details of which he skirts over—until later when he falls off the wagon in a Hulk-like transformation. Meanwhile, Phoebe exhibits some of the same obsessive diet and exercise habits that Paltrow herself has been accused of—a kind of meta character trait that balances the power in their budding relationship.
Adam’s sponsor is Mike (Tim Robbins), a long-married small-business owner whose years in Sex Addicts Anonymous have armed him with an arsenal of pithy maxims that offer constant amusement. “Feelings are like children,” he says. “You don’t want them driving, but you don’t want to stuff them in the trunk either.” When his prodigal son, Danny (Patrick Fugit), himself a drug addict, returns claiming to be clean, Mike proves to be far less forgiving of his own family than of his sponsees, and his control over his household and himself threatens to crack.
Finally, there’s Neil (Josh Gad), an emergency-room doctor who only goes to group because it’s mandated by the court. But when his skeevy behavior gets him fired from his dream job, he has to face the fact that sex addiction is ruining his life. Gad’s a gem of a performer, naturally funny and easy to root for as he slaptastically takes up bicycling in lieu of the subway, where there are too many women he’s prone to push his body against.
Neil is paired with the tough-yet-vulnerable Dede (Pink). They share a palpable chemistry and a lovely moment that tilts toward romance before they consciously yet wordlessly decide they’re better off as friends.
For a movie about sex addiction, Thanks for Sharing can actually be a little prudish about nudity and sex. When Neil inappropriately jokes about an unconscious patient’s genitalia, the body part is obscured, confusing the context. And when Adam and Phoebe make love—his first time in five years—the scene tastefully cuts away. In the latter case, the issue has less to do with titillation than storytelling—this is a big moment for Adam, narrative-wise. It’s a delicate balance for sure, weighing how much skin to show in a film about temptation of the flesh. But at a certain point you’re soft-pedaling if you don’t face the reality of these characters’ worlds.
Despite its title, Blumberg’s movie isn’t a PSA for group recovery. Mike and his son have a pointed exchange about AA or NA versus white-knuckling it. And the fragility of both sobriety and the sponsor system is demonstrated by multiple characters’ struggles to stay the path. Meanwhile, there’s a sharp moment between Mike’s wife (Joely Richardson) and Phoebe that argues we all have issues to deal with—some just aren’t as salacious as others.
Director: Stuart Blumberg
Writers: Stuart Blumberg, Matt Winston
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, Carol Kane, Alecia Moore
Release Date: Sept. 20, 2013