‘Thanks for Sharing’: On the couch with three sex addicts, where we hear it all
Sex addiction is a strange and fascinating matter, but it’s also something that’s hard to comprehend and even harder to have sympathy for – because, after all, what are we talking about, someone who’s compulsively after the fruit of life? That’s like trying to feel bad for someone who eats too much sushi or chocolate mousse. No matter, the line between indulgence and addiction is a fine one, and while Stuart Blumberg’s “Thanks for Sharing” doesn’t quite get fully between the sheets of the matter, it does get us on the couch with three recovering addicts.
The tall and rangy Mike (Tim Robbins) runs a New York-based support group like a big papa bear, stern, avuncular and always quick with an answer. He may be the warmest practitioner of tough love. Mike’s addiction, while a bit vague, is more substance based than sexual in nature, but he’s been clean for some time and seems to have a solid home life with his dutiful wife (a radiant Joely Richardson) who’s obviously been through the wars (probably not to the same degree as Anthony Weiner’s spouse, Huma Abedin, but still) and opted to stand by her man. Then there’s his trusted lieutenant, Adam (Mark Ruffalo), an international financier with a primo high-rise condo in Manhattan. He’s five years sober and, because sex is so easy to come by, goes to painful extremes to truncate alone time with the TV and Internet. The good news is that Adam has met the perfect woman in Phoebe (a very toned Gwyneth Paltrow), though he’s reticent to tell her about his bug (sex is permissible; just not compulsive sex). Adam’s also taken on a new charge who’s a discombobulated mess: Recently terminated from his post in a hospital for sexually harassing a co-worker, Neil (Josh Gad) rubs up against a woman in the subway and gets court mandated to the group.
As gross as that sounds, Neil’s a pretty affable guy and perhaps the most anchored of the lot. After “sharing” he forges an immediate and awkward alliance with Dede (Alecia Moore, aka Pink, who is excellent in her first real dramatic role), who does more for Neil’s progress than Adam. Adam and Mike, it turns out are not quite the pillars they seem. Mike’s son (Patrick Fujit), who was both a victim and refugee of Mike’s down years, returns home suddenly and past pains percolate quickly to the surface. Over in Adam’s killer view of the big city, Phoebe’s called on her eating and exercise disorders and can’t figure out how to digest Adam’s confession of sexual compulsion.
Such revelations become triggers, and how they go off and integrate in the bigger picture doesn’t quite mesh. Blumberg, who as a storyteller garnered an Academy Award nod for penning “The Kids are All Right,” seems a bit hesitant behind the camera in his directorial debut. Situations erupt out of nowhere, and since we’re in varying stages of “recovery” without a genuine taste of the descent into addiction hell, the now feels more like artifice than sincere soul baring.
The Neil and Dede thread yields the greatest rewards, perhaps because we catch Neil just as he’s fallen, coupled with the reality that he’s not a lean, chiseled alpha male, but more a slovenly Jack Black or John Candy type. Dede’s efforts to get him out of his shell and a pig-sty apartment ring with bona fide compassion. For two big personas, the two have many quiet small moments that are tinged with sexual tension. How Blumberg uses that and the actors is a true charm, and maybe the story he should have built the film around.
The other A-list actors are fine, it’s just that their characters lack depth, especially Ruffalo’s Adam. He’s a weepy version of Michael Fassbender’s sharklike sexaholic in “Shame,” a film that dove into the nastiness of sex compulsion and put the audience on edge. Here we’re told the stories of depravity in group. Hearing is not seeing.
Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in The Boston Phoenix, The Rumpus, Thieves Jargon, Film Threat and Open Windows. Tom is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere. You can follow Tom on Twitter @TBMeek3 and read more at TBMeek3.wordpress.com.