There’s no “Shame” in “Thanks for Sharing,” a populist and more ensemble-driven take on the issue of sex addiction that will likely earn more but not travel as far on the fest circuit as last year’s Michael Fassbender starrer. Co-written and directed by Stuart Blumberg (“The Kids Are All Right”), this feel-good look at a condition many refuse to acknowledge as a disease skips the self-pity and gets right to the heart of the issue: namely, the very real problems sex addicts have in creating interpersonal relationships, as Mark Ruffalo’s five-years-sober charmer attempts to court a new flame (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Ruffalo plays Adam, a man defined not by his job, as so many film characters are, but by the force that threatens to keep him from doing it. Though he has clearly developed a system for keeping the urges at bay — one that involves locking his laptop, removing porn-delivering TVs from hotel rooms and calling his sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins), for support — Adam lives in Manhattan, where triggers abound. In summer, beautiful women crowd the sidewalks, while every bus stop and billboard broadcasts flesh for sale, a message reinforced by Christopher Lennertz’s tribal-sounding score.
“Get thee to a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting,” the city seems to be telling those constantly on the brink of uncontrollably groping the eye candy around them. Once there, Mike has just the line to summarize why many find recovery so hard: “It’s like trying to quit crack while the pipe’s still attached to your body.” Blumberg and Matt Winston’s script is full of such aphorisms which, however clever, make the film start to sound, after a while, like a Stuart Smalley-hosted 12-step segment.
But the pic means well and looks great, bathing Gotham in that same golden glow that made Los Angeles so redolent of red wine, candles and freshly mowed grass in “The Kids Are All Right.” It’s not necessarily the right look for Blumberg’s latest subject, but it’s one that will help it book screens in megaplexes.
The commercial-minded half of the creative duo (with Lisa Cholodenko) on “Kids,” Blumberg once again demonstrates a facility for making audiences laugh at potentially uncomfortable material. But he also misses the human details that help to dimensionalize, resulting in characters defined by their function to the script: Josh Gad as the undisciplined newbie too noncommittal to stay clean for even a day; Alecia Moore (aka Pink) as the woman whose only experience with men has been sexual; Patrick Fugit as the disappointing son destined to help Mike over the last hurdle in his own recovery; and Paltrow as the ultimate temptation for Adam, a woman who comes on strong, insisting, “I’m a very sexual person, and I need to express that side of me.”
Collectively, “Thanks for Sharing” boasts more than enough personalities to keep things interesting, but it lacks the casual spontaneity to make these characters’ journeys anything other than predictable. Without baring quite so much of himself as Fassbender did in “Shame,” Ruffalo more convincingly conveys the torment of irrepressible sexual desire, particularly when coping with rejection from a mate as promising as Paltrow’s Phoebe. (Thankfully, the pic doesn’t play the too-scared-to-tell-her card for long.)
Gad’s Neil, whose participation in SAA was court-ordered, is a far tougher character to watch, particularly since the film punches up his reprobate behavior with grotesque and humiliating physical comedy. Still, as the story’s underdog, the likable comic gets one of the film’s most redemptive moments.
Overall, “Thanks for Sharing” reflects the same supportive attitude toward its characters that their recovery group does, while also serving to educate date-night auds about a condition very much in the zeitgeist. Even so, the romantic-comedy form seems a strange choice for such a tale, leaving several unanswered questions, such as, why is it OK for Adam to fool around with Phoebe, but not a hooker? And, if the film intends to show only one sex scene, why choose the latter over a moment of shared intimacy?