THANKS FOR SHARING-- 3 STARS
Sex addiction is a touchy-feely topic of a decidedly difficult and different touchy-feely nature. If you can't wrap your head around it and really want a challenge, go see Steve McQueen's Shame from two years ago starring a colossally complicated Oscar-snubbed performance from Michael Fassbender. That film showed the monster of the disease, but not the treatment of it. This month we are getting two more movies that tackle this controversial topic. One is Don Jon, the high-profile directorial and writing debut of star Joseph Gordon Levitt. Unlike Shame, it gets a flashy mainstream release later this month. The second is Thanks For Sharing, a smaller ensemble effort that is the feature debut of Stuart Blumberg, one of the writers for the quirky lesbian-centered dramedy The Kids Are All Right from 2010. Both have been garnering their own levels of taboo interest and Thanks for Sharing is up first and playing at four local Chicago theaters, including the AMC River East 21 downtown.
Why taboo? It's because sex addiction is a misunderstood and often laughed-at disease. It's dismissed by most as a male-centered problem of simple self-control and a by-product of the billion dollar porn industry. Even one of the main characters of Thanks For Sharing questions the notion of sex addiction by saying it's "an excuse guys use when they get caught cheating." This film is here to tell you, with great dramatic license, that sex addiction is real and more than an excuse.
Unlike alcohol or drug addictions that center on a substance being abused, there's isn't a single cause we can point our disapproving finger at for sex addiction. Where alcohol and drugs have store shelves, dealers, and bottles, sex is worse because it's everywhere. Another main character presents the idea of "imagine being addicted to crack with the crack pipe permanently attached to your body." The internal and external factors surrounding a person, their inklings, their vices, and their choices are as inescapable as other addictions without treatment and support.
Thanks For Sharing goes to great lengths to highlight the varying degrees and effects of this disease and the clear need for solid support and rehabilitation, all while doing so in an entertaining manner. There are fair jokes to be made, but they are matched by ugly dark flaws of character that could happen to any one of us. This film likely takes this disease more seriously than Don Jon, which is marketed more as a date/relationship movie of the porn lover versus the fairy tale lover, and with a far lighter tone than the darkness of Shame. While it has its built-in cherry-on-top factor, Thanks For Sharing is an admirable effort of drama and comedy on this new subject.
The film follows the differing plights of three male leads. The most central and first is Adam, played by the ultimate chameleon in Mark Ruffalo. He's a successful Manhattanite working in green energy who is five years sober from the one-night stands, prostitutes, and chronic bad choices that plagued his earlier 20's and 30's. He completely credits a strong and dedicated 12-step program with helping him make better choices. His longtime 12-step sponsor is construction contractor and married empty-nester Mike, played by Academy Award winner Tim Robbins. Mike is former alcoholic and fellow sex addict who seeks his own zen while helping those around him. The third and final viewpoint is that of sloppy ER doctor Neil, played by The Book of Mormon's Josh Gad, a new entry into a court-ordered 12-step program and Adam's new sponsee.
Each guy is approaching different challenges with their addiction. Adam is doing great. He doesn't own a computer, a smart phone, or a television and is very disciplined with controlling his urges. He meets great woman named Phoebe (Academy Award winner Gwyneth Paltrow), a sexually confident survivor of cancer, who he really clicks with but is someone he doesn't know how to tell the truth to about his addiction. Mike's estranged son Danny, (Almost Famous's Patrick Fugit) has returned home, clean eight-months from his own drug addiction, but Mike doesn't trust him yet or admit his own faults as a father. The new Neil can't seem to commit to the program until he meets a kindred spirit in fellow addict Dede (singer Alecia "Pink" Moore).
All three have their close calls, long talks, verbal arguments, possible relapses, and culminating moments of growth and change. Through it all, they lean on each other. The strength of the merits of a good 12-step program really take a center stage in Thanks For Sharing. None of the characters succeed without it and there's an early lesson preview for you. That said, it's tricky to swing between the tones of dark and risque to warm and fuzzy. Not all of the peaks and valleys come across as necessary or believable. That's one place where the movie isn't going to make fans.
Where the film will make fans is with very honest and solid performances across the board. Of all the movies so far this year, I have yet to see a romantic couple match the enormous chemistry of Ruffalo and Paltrow. Before you go making any Pepper Potts and Bruce Banner Avengers jokes, just watch them at work. Their dialogue is incredibly snappy and their body language, from Paltrow's pursuer to Ruffalo's temptation, speaks volumes. Their flirtatious scenes together playing off each other's quirks are sumptuously fascinating. You can't write this stuff, yet someone did. These two bring out the central taboos of the movie in a sensational way.
After the flirty couple, the second-billed Tim Robbins gets some meaty material of his own in between spouting off therapeutic mantras. It's no Shawshank Redemption, but it sure beats Green Lantern. The real scene-stealer is Josh Gad. Sure, he gets typecast a little as the "do-good fat guy" on the surface, but his character has the farthest to go and he's a comedic blast that still carries enough heart to play with the Oscar winners.
If Shame was too dark for you and you're looking for a challenging date movie, give Thanks For Sharing a try. It does the right thing to present a troubling and mislabeled disease with an entertaining and honest quality. The film is not going to make anyone throw up their hands, hit their knees, beg for amends, and change their life, but it approaches the topic of sex addiction and the relationships around us it affects with a solid, question-filled approach that is easy to appreciate.
LESSON #1: THE STIGMA OF SEX ADDICTION-- As was introduced, Thanks For Sharing seeks to flesh out and correct the stigma of sex addiction. Cliches and myths are busted by the characters' examples. It counts as a disease and isn't perpetuated by just perverts and deviants. It's held by people with problems that are difficult to pinpoint and cure and by folks that look and act like you or me.
LESSON #2: OVERCOMING ADDICTION WITH A PROGRAM OF HELP AND SUPPORT-- As was also discussed, Thanks For Sharing spotlights the transforming and supportive help of the classic 12-step program. By doing so, sex addiction is treated with the same respect as drug or alcohol addiction by a film such as this. The people embroiled in these meetings need help and give help. They have found that the best way to succeed at conquering their vices and addictions is with the support of others going through the same ordeal. There is, most definitely, an unmistakable power and result to the success of such programs.
LESSON #3: LIVING AND DEALING WITH A DIFFERENT KIND OF ADDICT-- Plenty of stories circulate in all walks of life about children, spouses, parents, and friends of addicts, mostly likely of the drug or alcohol-related circumstances. We've seen the bad daytime television talk show interventions and couch talks of people sharing their stories about living with those people or being those people themselves. The sex addict is a different kind of afflicted person with different traits and qualities, most of which go unspoken and private, that one must live with and adjust to as child, spouse, parent, or friend. For as much as we look at the addicts themselves in Thanks For Sharing, we get to see the people around them in their private and family lives and how they deal with that respective person.