'Thanks for Sharing' Fails to Shed Light on Sexual Addiction

Thanks for Sharing doesn't dissect its protagonists and explore the complexity of their addictive personalities. So why should we care?

Thanks for Sharing

Director: Stuart Blumbert
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad, Alecia Moore
Distributor: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Release date: 2014-01-07

The most interesting thing about the addicts in Thanks for Sharing is that their drug of choice is sex. They face the challenges of living with self-destructive urges, but also deal with the stigma that being a sex addict lacks legitimacy; it's just an excuse people use for being unable to maintain a monogamous relationship or they're just horny. Thanks for Sharing fails to dissect its protagonists and explore the complexity of their addictive personalities. This makes it difficult for viewers to feel any empathy or attribute their behavior to more than overactive libidos.

As the film begins, the three male leads are all at different stages of their recovery. Adam (Mark Ruffalo) has been “sober” for five years. So fearful of a relapse he lives without a television or personal computer. He's also avoided dating for fear of falling off the wagon. Mike (Tim Robbins) is not only a recovering sex addict but an alcoholic, as well. Neil (Josh Gad) is new to the group, still unable to go 24 hours without accosting women on the subway.

Compared to films like Trainspotting or Cowboy, Thanks for Sharing is the Disney version of living with addiction. Both Adam and Mike are financially secure and are successful at their jobs. Mike's wife, Katie (Joely Richardson) has stayed by her high-school sweetheart's side despite the fact that he infected her with Hepatitis C. Even Josh is a doctor, although he's fired after sexually harassing a fellow physician.

Mike's Zen and supportive exterior masks the ongoing emotional turmoil of having a recovering drug addict, Danny (Patrick Fugit), as a son. When Danny returns home after several years' absence claiming sobriety, Mike is dubious. While he is able to find the right words to comfort the men in his support group, he lacks the same instinct when it comes to Danny. Mike sufferes the frustration of being the parent of an addict and still harbors mistrust in spite of his own journey being a sterling example that change is possible.

Adam's conviction to sobriety is tested when he starts dating Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), a woman with a few compulsive tendencies of her own. She struggles to give credence to Adam's condition, while at the same time, doesn't trust him to not stumble.

Phoebe longs for unfettered intimacy, but Adam doesn't have the luxury to let loose and let go. His frigidness is infuriating because there's never a revelation of his lowest point. What made him seek help? As he tries to paint the cynical Phoebe a picture of a life filled with excessive masturbation, countless one-night stands and interludes with prostitutes, it all rings empty.

Ruffalo is so sedate, so dispassionate in his performance, it's hard to believe he could be so driven by the pursuit of p***y. The symptoms are just a sliver of the story. Even during the support group meetings, these men fail to explain the genesis of their disease.

When Adam's relationship inevitably crashes and burns, he predictably relapses, but watching him jack off to porn or screw a hooker lacks any emotional punch. An encounter with a severely disturbed ex plays like a bad porno. And while the closeness between Adam and sponsor Mike is evident early on, Mike disappears when Adam begins his downward spiral consumed by his own problems. Isn't the point of these groups to catch you before you fall? Or, is the message that the key to recovery is personal responsibility?

Neil has a flailing inability to connect with anyone, especially his sponsor Adam. He finds his footing thanks to an unlikely source, a woman amongst the “sausage fest”, named Dede played by singer Pink (Alecia Moore). Neil, finds his higher purpose through helping Dede. At first, it feels like Neil's deviant tendencies will manifest themselves at any moment proving disastrous for himself and Dede, but when the moment arrives, a more self-actualized Neil arises, like a Phoenix from the ashes of his former life. Their relationship teaches them both that the opposite sex can hold value deeper than just an outlet for sexual gratification.

Thanks for Sharing tries to tackle too much, and in doing so, accomplishes very little. Had the film focused solely on the bonds between the men, it would have been a diamond in the rough. Most male relationships on screen are archetypes: the bff/wingman or arch nemesis. Yes, addiction brought Mike and Adam together, but what other connections deepened their relationship? If you took the shared social stigma away, would they be friends at all?

By far, the most charismatic and intriguing presences in the film are Neil and Dede. Moore's performance isn't transformative by any means, but her edginess works in this particular role. Don't expect to ever see her elevate herself above the stereotypical tough girl with a heart of gold. Neil's evolution from a creepy, slovenly pervert into a man as opposed to man-child is subtle. It's quite an achievement to elevate a character from being the least likable and seemingly least redeemable into the one the audience is most likely to root for.

The Blu-ray's special features include a commentary director Stuart Blumberg and writer Matt Winston, and the standard “Making of” featurette. Surprisingly, the film contains a gag reel particularly since humorous moments in the movie are scarce, and none of the primary players can boast comedic genius.


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