Always wanting thanks for sharing, Hollywood can be insistent on making the point about sex addiction. With films like Shame and television shows such as Shameless, our overly sexualized and numbingly desensitized post-Internet culture has been held up to a mirror and, quite literally, shamed into peering deeply at the other side. Conversely, like a shut-in voyeur, artists feign disinterest as they covet our reactions. However, the best cinematic or fictionalized advocate for this very real and stigmatized disease may be coming to a clean theater near you this weekend. Enter the movie star-laden and affably titled Thanks For Sharing. Written and directed by Stuart Blumberg, I honestly was unsure what to expect going in. Once a MADtv writer, Blumberg has risen high with his Academy Award nominated script for 2010’s The Kids Are All Right. But in complete sincerity, I found that film’s sentimentality and awkwardly downbeat ending more off-putting than endearing. So, it’s with the greatest surprise that I can call Thanks For Sharing, his first directorial effort,acompletely charming indie dramedy, even if it handles its subject matter as nervously as a first support group meeting. The film centers on three protagonists who are experiencing the different stages of recovery that come with addiction. Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is our central hero who like an alcoholic living in a brewery walks to work everyday through a Manhattan cityscape which surrounds him with tempting billboards and strangers. Yet, he has remarkably gone five years on his recovery without incident—which would includes no one night stands, meaningless sex or masturbation—and all it required was refusing to allow himself access to the Internet without parental controls, a television or ever riding the subway. However, to avoid spiraling out of his Zen, he also hasn’t seen a woman in the last half decade. That is where Adam’s support group sponsor, Big Mike (Tim Robbins), comes into play. Mike pushes and needles Adam to get back on the dating scene, pointing to his own perfect marriage that has survived 15 years of non-incident ever since he maybe, sort of, kind of… gave his wife (Joely Richardson) Hep C. Eventually, Adam takes Mike’s advice when he meets the completely charming and effervescent energy that is Gwyneth Paltrow disguised as Phoebe. Ruffalo and Paltrow have played lovers before, as well as proving countless times in recent years that they enjoy channeling adorable eccentricity into flesh, so watching them struggle with not intertwining that is a chemistry casting win for the film. As Adam fights off Phoebe’s advances, afraid to tell her that he is a sex addict, Mike’s home life also seems to be entering a rocky patch when his alcoholic son Danny (Patrick Fugit) returns home to make amends while non-verbally requesting the apology due all children of addiction and weakness. That coming from Robbins’ working class hero seems about as likely as support group newcomer Neil (Josh Gad) overcoming his need to grind against New York commuters like they’re ex-Disney pop stars. Thanks For Sharingattempts to walk the fine line of exploiting the humor inherit in the phrase “sex addiction,” while very soberly addressing the gravity of the problem. This narrow balancing act does not always succeed, particularly due to many of Neil’s gags bordering on the repulsive. In one particularly repellant moment, Gad is forced to find the humor in his character video taping a view up his boss’s skirt with a hidden camera. Gad, who has proven excellent at handling the broad comedy of The Daily Show and his Tony nominated stint on The Book of Mormon, struggles mightily to find the depth of the apparent pig written on the page. But the strength of the film’s approach is that we are not only seeing the layers of hell existent for those trapped in this situation, a divine comedy thoroughly traveled by the decidedly not-laughing Michael Fassbender in Shame. Instead, it is through the wins and struggles of Adam and Mike that we can even learn to appreciate Neil as he begins making his first real steps of recovery…just when his big brother mentors begin facing their own demons. Adam and Phoebe’s courtship is surprisingly formal; one that is filled with jogs through Central Park and wine-enhanced Manhattan dinner parties laced around slow jazz montages, as if this were a 1980s produced Woody Allen romance. Of course, the trick is that Adam wants to keep it at that PG-13 level, because even the sight of Phoebe in lingerie forces him to withdrawal into a form of repression usually reserved for the last temptation of priesthood. At first, the denials are nearly sitcom in their execution of miscommunication, but when she actually learns about her new beau’s condition, the film asks some intriguing questions about being judged by a partner with every waking moment. It cannot help when a 20-year-old kid comes up to Adam to reminisce about their tryst from years back. Coupled with Mike having to accept responsibility not only for his long-ago sexual discretions affecting his wife, but psychologically harming his son makes for a deceivingly layered trilogy of tidy subplots wrapped around one support group. Thus, it is unfortunate that the women involved do not get their perspective developed in a truly meaningful way. It comes close when Phoebe tries to confide to Richardson’s Katie about her anxieties in this relationship, and Katie poignantly asks the most understated question in the film: What about my side of the street? After all, I chose to stay with an addict.
It’s a shame that this is not explored further as Phoebe’s resentment boils over shortly thereafter, providing a true case study of what really spiraling out of control could mean with this disease. Likewise, Alecia Moore aka Pink makes her serious acting debut as the intriguing Dede, the only woman in the film suffering sex addiction. However, she too is ultimately an accessory to Neil’s storyline when he discovers that he can be friends with a woman without trying to molest her. The approach to dealing with the serious subject works remarkably well with many laughs simply coming from the film’s location. There are definite limitations from a script that cannot quite find the right tone for its earnest take on what many consider to be a punchline, but the natural warmth and authenticity in all the performances lends a credibility and sweetness to its three-pronged approach of seducing the audience. Den of Geek Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars