It’s safe to say that sex addiction is no longer the misunderstood step-brother to alcohol and drug addiction. Thanks to reality television, cable shows like “Californication” and last year’s awards season contender “Shame,” the stigma around sex addiction, of it not really being a problem or something that only affects scuzzy perverts, has long since evaported. Which makes Stuart Blumberg‘s directorial debut “Thanks For Sharing” all the more curious. An uneven, somewhat out-of-time dramedy, the film takes great pains to confirm that sex addiction is just like any other addiction, but isn’t sure what to say beyond that.
While the story centers around Adam (Mark Ruffalo), five years sober and embarking on his first relationship in years with the sexiest breast cancer survivor ever in Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), there are a few other addicts around which the picture orbits. There’s overweight doctor Neil (Josh Gad) who is fired from his job thanks to his compulsive behavior, punk rocker hairstylist Dede (Pink) who is also trying to stay off narcotics, and 12-step veteran Mike (Tim Robbins), whose own son (Patrick Fugit) may have a problem with drugs. But the film wants to have it both ways by delving into the seriousness of sex addiction while also trying to rationalize people who may not understand it by asserting everyone has problems (pretty much every character in the film has something that controls their life to one degree or another). And oh, with comedy breaks too!
The heart of the story comes from the Adam and Phoebe, and once you get past the rather unbelievable conceit that an attractive, single woman in Manhattan who previously dated an alcoholic is perplexed by sex addiction, it provides the most interesting narrative material that never gets the full attention it deserves. In fact, dump all the other side characters and you would have a much more compelling film with these two. One of the more interesting topics that’s introduced but disappointingly never explored is how an addict, who views sex essentially as a drug, re-learns how to engage and express themselves sexually in an act of love, devotion or affection. Aside from one brief scene between Adam and Phoebe talking about the subject, this much more intriguing thematic thread is dropped…but let’s cue to the funny fat guy!
One has to feel for Josh Gad, who is undoubtedly talented but repeatedly saddled with we-couldn’t-afford-Jonah-Hill roles. Here, he provides the film’s comic relief, that while amusing at times, is out of sync with the rest of the movie and not really necessary. Not only does Blumberg try to get comedic mileage out of Gad running across town and getting really sweaty, he also goes for Gad on a bicycle getting sweaty (he also pratfalls into the side of a van), Gad dancing and getting sweaty, and Gad visiting his mother really sweaty. We get the point. Neil is supposed to repesent those who are resistant to the 12-steps but wind up fully embracing them, and while he does have that arc, it’s a bit unbelievable that only after a few days of sobriety he’s helping newcomer Dede get through her own issues. The two essentially form a Sobriety Pals alliance that could really only exist in a movie.
Blumberg, who has previously written “The Kids Are All Right” and “The Girl Next Door,” has clearly shown a knack for navigating sex in true and interesting ways, but that nuanced touch isn’t here. ‘Sharing’ is great at showing the highs of sobriety and lows of falling off the wagon, but the difficult middle ground of maintaining the disease on a day-to-day basis is mostly left to montages of sexy billboards on buildings or sexy people walking down the street, as if to rhetorically ask the audience: Isn’t sex everywhere? Well, yes it is, but the leap to chronic masturbation and sleeping with prostitutes is not quite as shaded in as you’d like to be in this film which wants to present multiple portraits of addiction.
Ruffalo and Paltrow are undoubtedly the highlights of the picture, with the film working best when focused on their trials to make their coupling work. But a special note must also be made about Pink who is a truly pleasant surprise in her first major screen outing (not counting animated gigs), with her first scene in the film among one of the best in ‘Sharing’ at large. But her character is just one of a handful lost in the clutter of a story that stretches itself both too thin and conventional across two hours that feel both too long and too short (the amount of narrative crammed into the last twenty minutes before everyone inevitably gets redeemed is a bit remarkable). Never quite as deep or probing as it thinks it is, “Thanks For Sharing” is an unsatisfying tease. [C-]