Thanks for Sharing
Addiction has always been a good go-to subject because it can be rife with drama. While most films deal with drug or alcohol addiction, only one film in recent years seriously tackled the topic of sex addiction. That film was "Shame." But whereas "Shame" was all about the study of the addictive behavior itself, Stuart Blomberg’s (writer of "The Kids are Alright") new film "Thanks for Sharing" deals with the 12-step program for sex addicts and the stories of three people involved.
The film has a similar feel to 1994’s "When a Man Loves a Woman," which focused on one woman’s alcoholism, her entrance into the 12-step program, and how her husband and children tried to deal with it. Here we have three men, one of whom is the single Adam (Mark Ruffalo), who has been sexually sober for five years and who decides to take his first step back into the dating pool. He meets cancer survivor Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) a free-spirited woman whose ex was an alcoholic and can’t bear to be with another person in recovery.
We also have Mike (Tim Robbins), a former alcoholic and sex addict whose wife Katie (Joely Richardson) has stuck by him, but whose son Danny (Patrick Fugit) has inherited his father’s addiction gene. Now sober himself (but without the use of a 12-step program), Danny returns home, setting off an uncomfortable dynamic that threatens both of their sobrieties.
Lastly, there is Neil (Josh Gad), an overweight schlub of a doctor who is in the middle of his addiction and finding it hard to get out. While most think that sex addiction is about people compulsively hooking up, Neil shows a different side that includes inappropriate frottage on unsuspecting women, as well as voyeurism and excessive masturbation. He keeps lying about his progress, but when he meets Dede (Alecia Moore) things change for him.
These three men have known each other for some time, and they become a sort of family that leans on each other for support while struggling to not fall back into their addiction. It’s an important and informative film in that respect, and does a great job of illustrating exactly what 12-step programs entail. That’s the nice thing about Blumberg and Matt Winston’s script: They take addiction seriously when it could have easily been mocked. Even when scenes are played dangerously close to laughs, we realize it’s more serious and troublesome than we might have expected.
The other thing the script gets right is that it looks at not only the addiction from the addict’s perspective, but also those around them. It looks at the long-suffering wife who chooses to stay with her addict husband; it looks at the non-addict coming in from the outside to be with an addict, as well as how one addict was able to control his disease without the help of the program.
That said, the film oftentimes feels like it is an instruction manual on how to do "the program." There are many scenes where characters have to awkwardly talk about the rules in such a way that makes it obvious they are educating the audience. While this is necessary for those unfamiliar with addiction programs, it sometimes feels heavy-handed as though it was sponsored and created by the addiction programs themselves.
There are moments where the film struggles to get in every different angle of the subject, and tries to admirably show all sides, but this shouldn’t be the "addiction film to end all addiction films." The press notes state that this was supposed to show a new kind of family -- the family of addicts who come together to support each other. While that is all well and good, the film doesn’t really make that as concrete as it could have. Sure, the men all know each other and they interact here and there, but I didn’t get the sense that this is what the film was mainly focusing on. It just felt like three separate stories that occasionally intersect.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to be impressed by here, the least of which are the performances. Every actor excels, with Ruffalo front and center. His struggles are potent, and he is able to play the humor of his character as well as easily slip into the darker moments with ease. And there are some unsettling moments: Paltrow is a joy to watch when she’s being plucky and fun, but she also gets to go to a darker place and does beautiful work when she does. Robbins is good as a man who needs to let go of always trying to be right, while Gad (best known for Broadway’s "The Book of Mormon") stuns with his ability to be the chunky goofball, but also has moments of incredible pathos and vulnerability. His relationship with Dede is the heart of the film.
And that’s the film’s biggest surprise. While it’s not a huge role, Alecia Moore (better known as pop singer Pink) is terrific here. She creates a character that isn’t too far from the persona she exhibits on a day-to-day basis, but she fleshes her out to be a real person with real problems. On camera she is natural, and has terrific presence. Her first big monologue elicited tears from the audience; for someone who hasn’t been in an A-List production before, she does extraordinary work.
All in all, this is an effective piece of filmmaking that brings a taboo subject front and center and makes it easy for audiences to get a closer view. A few of the subjects begged for a more in-depth conversation. Neil’s relationship with his mother (Carol Kane), for example, hints at molestation, but it doesn’t have the guts to really go there. And Adam’s reasons for being a sex addict are never really explored. At already close to two hours, we can understand why they didn’t have time to delve into everything, but there did seem to be something missing here, despite the many wonderful things the film possesses.