Many see support groups (or 12-step groups if you want to call them that) as being meetings for people who just wallow in their own misery for no good reason. But the truth is that those who attend these groups are not that different from the rest of us, and their meetings can at times be very funny. At the very least, these people deserve credit and applause for taking the time to get the help they need because asking for help is usually one of the hardest things to do.
“Thanks for Sharing” is one of the few movies I have seen recently which deals with these groups and the people who attend them. While it does take the subject of addiction seriously, the movie also finds a good balance between drama and comedy to where we find ourselves laughing with these characters and never at them. Whether or not you go to a support group, I think it’s safe to say that you will recognize certain parts of yourself in these characters because, let’s face it, nobody is perfect.
The movie focuses on three men who attend the same Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting: Adam (Mark Ruffalo), Mike (Tim Robbins) and Neil (Josh Gad). Adam is an over-achieving environmental consultant who, as the movie opens, is celebrating his fifth year of sobriety. Mike is a happily married man who is kind of the elder statesman of the support group these men attend. Then there’s Neil, an emergency room doctor who is in serious denial over his addictions to where he gets in serious trouble with the law. I like how this movie gives us characters that are at different stages of dealing with this addiction to where it gives you a good idea of how and why people come to these groups in the first place.
Adam is at a good place in his life where he has really cleaned up his act and is coping with life really well. He takes great pains to keep himself on the right track by taking such measures as removing the TV sets from his hotel rooms so that he won’t find himself watching anything the least bit pornographic. But then he meets the irresistibly beautiful Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) while at a party where people are eating bugs (don’t ask), and the two are instantly attracted to one another i. Adam is eager to be in a relationship with her, but he’s not altogether sure if he’s ready to fall in love again after all that he has accomplished. He’s trying to keep his demons at bay, and it becomes harder and harder for him to do so.
Mike has been in recovery the longest, and he appears to have a great relationship with his wife Katie (Joely Richardson). Things between them, however, change very quickly when his son Danny (Patrick Fugit) arrives home unexpectedly, and Danny has some serious addiction problems of his own. Katie is thrilled to see Danny, but Mike is not sure he can trust him after all they have been through. In the process, we come to see that Mike, despite his well-earned sobriety, still has some major control issues that he has yet to make peace with.
As for Neil, he gets himself into a painful situation when he stands uncomfortably close to a very attractive woman while riding on the subway. Then things come to a head for him when he loses his job under rather embarrassing circumstances, and this finally makes him realize that he needs help to overcome his addiction. Neil eventually finds solace through another recovering addict, Dede (Alecia Moore, better known as music star Pink), who is just starting to deal with her personal demons as well.
I’m always yearning for movies that have down to earth characters, and “Thanks for Sharing” is definitely one of them. All of what everyone goes through feels very real and never seems contrived. Granted, the storyline involving Robbins’ character is one we’ve seen many times before, but the acting between him, Fugit and Richardson is so good to where we can forgive this film for venturing into familiar territory. It’s a shame that most Hollywood movies don’t dare give us more characters we can relate to on a human level because it would make most movies more enjoyable as a result.
“Thanks for Sharing” was directed and co-written by Stuart Blumberg, one of the writers of “The Kids Are All Right.” Finding a balance between the comedy and drama can be very hard to pull off, but Blumberg is successful in doing so for the most part here. He also shows a lot of love for each character, and I don’t just mean the ones who are in recovery. Some of them come to realize that they have problems of their own and that their lives are far from perfect.
Mark Ruffalo remains one of the best and most natural actors working in movies today. As Adam, I’m not sure I ever caught him acting once, and his chemistry with Paltrow is very strong. Ruffalo makes Adam a very likable guy as he struggles to not fall back into his old habits, and he makes you see how much of a challenge that is for him as the movie goes on.
As for Paltrow, this seems like the most relaxed she has been onscreen in some time. While she was a blast to watch in “Iron Man 3,” she seems more in her element here as she portrays a character who is not an addict, but one who needs to face up to her own issues which are slowly eating away at her. It’s been almost twenty years since the movie “Seven” came out, and she remains as sexy as ever. Watching her in “Thanks for Sharing” reminded me of just how wonderful she can be when she is given the right part.
Robbins remains as terrific an actor as he ever has been, and I never get bored watching him in anything he does. His character of Mike seems like the typical father who has lost trust with those he should be closest to, but Robbins imbues Mike with a lot of humanity to where he never seems like a simple caricature or a cliché. His scenes with Fugit, who we haven’t seen enough of since “Almost Famous,” ring true emotionally, and their relationship feels authentic when it could have felt ridiculously manipulative. Even as father and son have their emotionally climatic scene, director Blumberg never tries to manipulate the audience because Robbins portrayal rings true and has us empathizing strongly with his character.
I’m not familiar with the work of Gad other than the fact that he appeared onstage in “The Book of Mormon,” a musical I have yet to see but do have the soundtrack to (it’s brilliant by the way). He has the trickiest role as he is the movie’s comic relief, but he never just plays Neil for simple laughs. We are watching Neil as he is at the start of his recovery, and it’s a rough start to say the least. Gad makes you root for his character even as he does some of the dumbest and most reckless things anyone would ever have the nerve to do.
But there’s no forgetting Moore, better known as Pink, who gives an impressive performance as an addict who was pushed into this particular support group by a friend. Her character of Dede ends up forming a strong rapport with Neil, and they find in each other the strength they need to move past what’s destroying their lives to where they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. From start to finish, Moore really understands this character very well and you can see it in her eyes. Like Ruffalo, you never catch her acting here as she grounds her character in a reality that is not all removed from our own.
I liked how “Thanks for Sharing” showed that these support groups can become another addiction as its members begin to spend more time with others instead of their own families. While most of these characters have made great strides in conquering their demons, they still struggle with their urges every single day. Truth be told, it takes a lot of courage to face up to the things that are tearing your life apart, and long before this movie is over, you realize that these addicts are not weak but strong.
The one thing I would have liked to see more of is how the family members deal with their loved ones’ addictions. My understanding is that they can only be so involved in what an addict goes through as they can never fully comprehend how dangerous their addictions can be unless they have experienced the same thing themselves. There is a scene between Paltrow and Richardson which addresses the divide between addicts and their loves, but I would have liked to see this movie go a little bit deeper in that area.
When all is said and done, “Thanks for Sharing” fulfilled my need to see a movie with characters that, whether they’re in a support group or not, are ones we can recognize in our own lives. With all these superhero movies coming at us endlessly, it’s important to remember that we will never be perfect and can’t do everything for everybody. It would be nice to be a superhero though, wouldn't it? Lord knows we could use a couple of them right now. Anyway, I think this movie is definitely worth checking out.