Filmmaker Stuart Blumberg Helms a Polite Comic Take on Sex Addiction

Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is charming, good-looking and professionally successful with an easy-going air about him. Mike (Tim Robbins) gives the impression of being a wise mentor. And then there’s Neil (Josh Gad), who is obviously a bit of a bumbler. And what

Sep 18, 2013 at 9:44 am

Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is charming, good-looking and professionally successful with an easy-going air about him. Mike (Tim Robbins) gives the impression of being a wise mentor — the guy who has seen and done it all, lived through the highs and lows and decided to share his experience with others just getting started. He’s a leader, a quiet everyday hero. And then there’s Neil (Josh Gad), who is obviously a bit of a bumbler, living life by the seat of his pants — but this pair of trousers has rips in the knees and a huge water splash covering his crotch. So what does he do? He apparently plops down in even more water, making matters worse. 

And what do they have in common? They’re all in a sex addiction support group, Mike as Adam’s sponsor, and all in various stages of recovery.

One of the first times we see Adam, he’s walking the streets of New York among the teeming throngs of humanity, but it is clear that the focus is on the women, the sheer diversity of attractive forms. It’s the perfect set-up for the premise of Stuart Blumberg’s Thanks for Sharing; breezy and strutting its stuff with a cocky sense, a full-of-itself confidence. We get the fact that Adam could have any woman (or man) that crosses his path, but there’s a fundamental problem that renders the whole exercise rather flaccid.

Blumberg’s movie traffics in the world of meetings and shared stories, building a supportive community to carry its ensemble through the rough patches, but it lacks any real raw and jagged edges. Everything on display has been sanded smooth, which allows for light laughs at best and not an ounce of provocative sensuality.

Eight years — that’s how long Adam has been on the proverbial straight and narrow. We’re led to believe that he lives the life of a modern-day monk. He refuses to watch television or to take the subway, which might place him too close to others. He’s probably the only adult on the planet that sets the Internet parental controls for himself. We can appreciate that there’s temptation everywhere, but we sure hope that at some point we’re going to get a glimpse into the dark side of his soul.

That’s why when he has a meet-cute moment with Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) at a dinner party, complete with witty and seemingly sexy repartee, we lean into the situation as if we’re not just flies on the wall. No, we want to feel like we’re involved in the exchange. We desire just a sniff of the potent seediness, the primal heat that overtakes Adam. 

Further enticing us is a brazen turn from Paltrow, smart and aggressive with her sexual being. This is the kind of role that actors probably dream about, where they get to play off their own natural urges in scenes that approximate real human interactions, not just heightened or exaggerated dramatic moments.

Adam’s narrative commands the most attention, but the same concern applies to the stories of Mike and Neil as well. Mike, so assured when around support groups and his co-workers, comes across as a self-righteous blowhard in the company of his family, especially his son (Patrick Fugit), who also struggles with addiction issues. Neil bumbles his way through instances that feel more like naked grabs for broad humor, although his exchanges with a new female group member (Pink) come closest to revealing how recovery can result in significant healthy bonding.

Blumberg seems to be teasing us here, playing it safe, when he could have gone on a real search for the edge. British director Steve McQueen and his transgressive collaborating partner Michael Fassbender took us down that rabbit hole in Shame a couple of years ago. Fassbender’s Brandon was also a handsome professional in the city, although when we enter his life, he’s nowhere near considering a move toward support or recovery. He’s caught in the near-lethal grip of his addiction. 

It is hard to imagine Adam ever wandering in proximity to the black hole where Brandon resides, and when Adam does indeed slip up, what Blumberg presents us with is a caricature of the fall. At its worst, it seems that Adam has merely lowered himself to the ground, with his back resting safely on the plush carpeting of either an upscale hotel or his austere apartment.

Of course, we’re supposed to embrace Thanks for Sharing as a romantic comedy, a feel-good ensemble dramedy, but the film needs drama, the messy stuff of life to stimulate in us, a reflection of humanity. Otherwise, there’s nothing important worth sharing. (Opens wide Friday) (R)

Grade: C



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