Thanks for Sharing (2012) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for language and some strong sexual content
Running Time: 112 min.

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Josh Gad, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alecia Moore (Pink), Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, Carol Kane
Small role: Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Michaela Watkins
Director: Stuart Blumberg

Screenplay: Stuart Blumberg, Matt Winston
Review published September 22, 2013

Stuart Blumberg (The Girl Next Door, Keeping the Faith), who received an Oscar nod for co-scripting The Kids Are Alright, follows up his success by writing another film starring Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers, Shutter Island), Thanks for Sharing, a seriocomic look at sex addiction, and some of the methods used to overcome the psychological malady. This time, Blumberg takes the director's chair, and does a fine enough job to think he has a future in that position, if he can learn to curb a few of the excesses in his own writing.

Ruffalo stars as Adam, who has spent about five years "sober", which is what recovering sex addicts call it when they've abstained from sex outside of a relationship, even with oneself. His years of sex addiction has kept him from being able to maintain any sort of relationship, but now he thinks he might be ready when he meets Phoebe (Paltrow, Iron Man 3), a cancer survivor and fitness fanatic who is looking for someone healthy to start a relationship with, and thinks Adam might be that man. What she doesn't know is that Adam's a regular attendee at a 12-step recovery group.

Adam's sponsor is the hard-nosed group leader Mike (Robbins, Zathura), who is in recovery from not only sex addiction, but alcoholism as well, in his 18th year on the wagon. Mike has problems of his own when his junkie son returns home, and while the son claims he is done with that life, Mike is skeptical. Meanwhile, Adam is sponsoring someone on his own, a young porn-addicted doctor named Neil (Gad, Jobs). Neil can't even ride a subway for fear he will act improperly, and makes a big mess for himself when he is caught in an act of voyeurism at work. He's only there because he is legally obligated, but through his friendship with a new group member named Dede (Pink, Rollerball), he finds that there's more to women than just as sex objects.

Thanks for Sharing is a case where the trailer for the film, which spotlights solely the comedic moments of the film, does not come close to doing the film it is selling justice. Prior to watching the film, I had seen the trailer over a half-dozen times, and not a single person in the theater audibly laughed at anything they saw in it. Interestingly, many of the same moments that drew nothing but silence in the trailer actually drew out laughter in the viewing audience I screened the film with. The reason? Because in the trailer, we only see familiar actors spouting out gags, whereas in the movie, we see well-rounded characters we come to know say a few funny lines as comic relief in the midst of some particularly serious drama. In other words, the laughs are earned and not forced.

The film follows three men with sex addiction, and while they are all connected by their sponsorships, they lead separate lives in which they must cope with their recovery mostly on their own terms. As with most films that have separate storylines, the success of each one may vary, and in Thanks for Sharing, we get two pretty good story threads, and one quite bad. Luckily, the best of the three is the main one with Adam struggling to come to terms with the possibility of having sex in which it has some meaning above and beyond just the feeling, and the difficulty this poses for Phoebe, who doesn't seem to have much tolerance for messy situations.

Ruffalo and Paltrow work quite well together, and though their romance isn't on the screen enough to give us the full effect of their emotions, we can sense their attraction for one another throughout. Ruffalo, in particular, does a masterful job in showing the two sides of his personality, seeming so light, approachable and vulnerable as the recovering addict, but dark and detached during those moments alone in which his sexual urges threaten to overtake him.

The other two storylines share a decent amount of time for the rest of the film, with the storyline involving Mike and his family issues quite serious, while the one that follows Neil is mostly played for laughs. Mike's story should have gotten more screen time, as it offers up some good food for thought on how recovering addicts are probably the most skeptical of all that these addictions can be overcome, and how difficult they find it to connect with those who are supposed to be closest to them because they aren't struggling with the same demons.

Getting far too much emphasis is Neil's comedy of errors, which would feel far more at home in a television sitcom than in a movie that tries to delve into the seriousness of sex addiction. Blumberg also spends a good deal of effort in making Neil look quite buffoonish and gross, with his perpetual state of sweating, especially as he tries to push himself around town by running or hopping on a bicycle (in one not-so-funny scene, he's exhausted to the point of barfing on himself). Neil's story does redeem itself somewhat by showcasing the 'friends without benefits' relationship he has with Dede, who has never related to men except through sex, though Pink's very credible performance makes one think that the film might have been better altogether if Thanks for Sharing swapped the characters so that she is the main player, with Neil only supporting.

Thanks to the quality performances and some moments of honest insight, Thanks for Sharing manages to come out on top of its occasional tendencies to go for the cheap laughs and melodramatic tragedy, enough to garner a mild recommendation for fans of the stars, or for those who know someone undergoing their own addictions. Even with the occasional inanity, Blumberg manages to treat the condition, which some people don't even recognize as a legitimate disease, with respect, which should help it resonate for those interested in the subject matter.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo