Good performances save Thanks For Sharing

Recovering sex addicts navigate the Big Apple in Stuart Blumberg’s directorial debut.

click to enlarge THEY’RE TOO SEXY: Adam (Mark Ruffalo) and Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) make a cute couple, if only they can get past their issues. - Anne Joyce
Anne Joyce
THEY’RE TOO SEXY: Adam (Mark Ruffalo) and Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) make a cute couple, if only they can get past their issues.

Twelve-step programs are usually associated with alcoholism (thank AA for that), but in reality the people putting one foot in front of the other can be suffering from any number of compulsions. Thanks For Sharing focuses on a group of Manhattan sex addicts struggling to contain their urges in a city overloaded with sexual wallpaper. That may sound like the setup for a gritty and graphic drama, but first-time director Stuart Blumberg opts instead for a bright and sunny tone that only turns dark near the end. I’m not sure if that’s the right approach for this material, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find Thanks For Sharing entertaining.

Mark Ruffalo stars as Adam, who is celebrating five years of sobriety as the film begins. For Adam, being clean means abstaining from sex, porn, masturbation — basically anything that might set him off down a path of self-destruction. As such, he doesn’t own a computer or a TV (there’s a repeat gag involving hotel staff removing flat-screens from his rooms), and despite all that time living right, the poor sap still sweats every time a good-looking lady passes him on the street. And since he’s following a 12-step program, Adam also attends meetings and shares his progress with the group.

Among those hearing him out is his sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins), the elder statesman who never lacks for a profane piece of inspirational chatter. (Personal favorite: “It’s going to hurt more than a back-alley colonoscopy.”) There’s also Neil (Josh Gad), Adam’s sponsee, who can’t take the subway without rubbing up against some unwilling female passenger, and Dede (pop star Pink, billed here as Alecia Moore), the lone female in the group, who tends to careen from destructive sexual encounter to hardcore drug use and back again.

Early on, Adam and Mike seem to have it mostly figured out, while Neil and DeDe appear destined for tragedy. But then Adam starts dating a hot blond (Gwyneth Paltrow) with control issues, and Mike’s estranged son (Patrick Fugit) shows back up in his life, dredging up past pain at seemingly every turn. Real-world problems ensue, and Adam and Mike begin to slip closer and closer to the abyss.

Thanks For Sharing is the directorial debut of Blumberg, a screenwriter best known for penning The Girl Next Door and co-writing the excellent The Kids Are All Right. (Here he shares screenplay credit with Matt Winston.) Both of those earlier movies found a way to treat heavy sexual themes with a light touch, and Thanks For Sharing certainly fits the pattern. That said, there’s a certain tonal disconnect here, what with Ruffalo playing deeply tortured one scene, and Gad hamming it up with physical comedy the next.

Fortunately for Blumberg, his actors save the movie. Start with Ruffalo, who manages to sell equally the early, cloying meet-cute scenes with Paltrow, and the grim off-the-wagon material toward the end. As for Gwyneth, she puts an interesting twist on her “Miss Perfect” public persona, slowly revealing the damage underneath her character’s pristine shell. I also dug Gad, especially in his more understated moments (he nails the physical comedy as well, even if it doesn’t really fit the material), though I was less sold on Pink, who manages to come off as natural one moment, stilted the next — often in the same scene.

But the best performance in a movie filled with good ones is Tim Robbins’ work as Mike. Holier than thou but with deep-seated anger issues, Mike is a walking contradiction, and Robbins nails every beat. His scenes with Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) are terrific, and there are real surprises in the way the relationship plays out. Robbins has done great work for years (The Player, Bob Roberts, The Shawshank Redemption and Mystic River all spring immediately to mind), and here he delivers another top-notch turn.

I was on the fence about recommending Thanks For Sharing, mostly due to the tonal deficiencies, but the actors are appealing enough to make this a looker worth checking out. Just don’t do it compulsively.

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