Remember when sex addiction was something of a joke? Or at the very least it was the pariah of the "addiction" family, taken less seriously than alcohol or drugs and generally considered an excuse conjured up by the promiscuous to explain their behavior. Well that's no longer the case thanks to specialists defining it as a legitimate illness and honest dramatic portrayals like Michael Fassbender's in Shame. Stuart Blumberg's Thanks for Sharing wants us to take sexual addiction seriously, as well, but as it attempts to balance humor, a pair of potential romances, and insight on the disease, it turns out to be an enjoyable, easily accessible romantic comedy and nothing more.
The serio-comic film follows the various interpersonal relationships of sex addicts living in New York City, probably the worst place to try and escape the constant visual stimuli. Mark Ruffalo gives a charming, soulful performance as Adam, a 12-step veteran living like a hermit after five years of sexual "sobriety". Adam's no TV no Internet existence is a source of humor for his sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins), who has his own problems to deal with. Mike's past promiscuous escapades have soured his wife (Joely Richardson) and possibly helped turn his son (Patrick Fugit) into a drug abuser. While their two stories could probably float an entire film separately, other subplots intercede and even dominate for long stretches. The main one involves Neil (Josh Gad), a doctor forced into the self-help program after his compulsive behavior threatens his job. He quickly grows attached to Dede (Alecia "Pink" Moore), a rockin' hairstylist addicted to bad men and drugs as much as she is sex.
With so much going on, nothing quite gets the attention it deserves, and Blumberg is forced to make concessions of expediency. That includes the central romantic relationship between Adam and Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), a sexy breast cancer survivor and health nut who conveniently has an aversion to dating addicts. Of course that means his first stab at love in five years will start off with a lie, as he stays mum on his sobriety. Too much of what goes on between the two amounts to rom-com fluff and anything deeper than that brushed aside. For instance, Adam struggles to make the connection between sex and genuine love, having spent his life viewing it as the means of fulfilling a primal need.
Ruffalo gets to play a variation of his Bruce Banner character from The Avengers, bottling up his emotions and refusing to let others crack his calm exterior for fear of the worst. It's the sort of sensitive, thoughtful character Ruffalo can easily settle into. Paltrow, while delightful as a whole, has to play a character that frankly doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Shifting like the wind depending the plot's needs, Phoebe goes from alluring, to understanding, to wildly insensitive at a whim. First of all, it doesn't make sense that she seems completely oblivious to Adam's plight after he finally reveals the truth, considering her past experience with addicts. Then her reaction to the news isn't to try and help him begin a new phase of his life, but to strip down and shake her butt in his face seductively. Most guys would never complain about being in Adam's situation, but most guys also aren't going through what he is. It's the equivalent of Phoebe dangling an open bottle of Jack Daniels in front of an alcoholic. Phoebe seems too much like a plot device than a real person, and we're never given a reason to root for their relationship to succeed.
Unfortunately there's not much insight into the illness offered up beyond trite platitudes and slogans, with the hard work of maintaining sobriety chronicled in montages or left out altogether. Blumberg seems to be celebrating the close-knit community and camaraderie that helps sufferers break their dependence on sex, but we only really see it in the budding friendship between Neil and Dede. Initially resistant to the program, Neil hits rock bottom and has his "come to Jesus" moment, attracting Dede who admires his showing of honesty. Since their sponsors are preoccupied with their own lives, Neil and Dede begin to lean on one another for support, forming a bond of mutual respect with a person of the opposite sex for the first time in their lives. Gad, a gifted comedian only beginning to make strides as a dramatic actor, endures some humiliating physical gags that don't add much. But the chemistry he finds with edgy pop rocker Pink is the film's true beating heart. In her first major screen role she doesn't appear the least bit overwhelmed, nailing the most film's most poignant scene during a group confessional.
As writer of The Kids Are All Right, Blumberg helped advance our notions of the American family, but Thanks For Sharing feels a few years out of date. What few points it wants to make are generally accepted now when they would have been revelatory before. Thanks for Sharing has its charms, but it's both too shallow and too busy, and not all that perceptive.