Release: Friday, September 20, 2013 (limited)
….and now that you have, please don’t ever share again. It might cost us our friendship.
So said Gwyneth Paltrow to Mark Ruffalo’s Adam, who’s celebrating five years of celibacy. Well, maybe ‘celebrating’ is a poor choice of words for this situation, but still. Ruffalo plays a dude who is reticent to having any kind of relationship with another woman at this stage in his life, and the other two lead roles here in Tim Robbin’s Mike and Josh Gad’s Neil, have at some point invariably come to this conclusion in their own journeys through rehabilitation.
The three meet in a support group primarily for sex addiction. The opening scenes show them sharing anecdotes, as well as informing each other of any progress they might be making day-to-day. Each of the three main characters is at a different stage in that progression towards health. For Mike, he’s a recovering alcoholic as well as a former abusive husband and father and has been for years seeking solace in therapy. For Adam, this means being five years removed from his last sexual encounter. Then there’s Neil, who seemingly can’t get a grip on anything at all and it would be a miracle if he went a day without masturbation. Initially, his character would appear to be the most chronic sufferer of a disease which many might view as simply an excuse or a reason to be antisocial. Thanks For Sharing attempts to rectify the stigma, but in so doing, director Stuart Blumberg causes more of a blemish on the subject because it’s far too preachy.
The acting all around is something close to remarkable and has little, if anything, to do with the depressing nature of this film. Ruffalo and Paltrow have great chemistry — not just in the bedroom, either. Tim Robbins is a heartbreaking central figure in that, in some sense, he’s the oldest of this trio and would thereby seem to be at a more advanced stage in his rehab; to assume as much would be a gross oversight though. He’s very much still dependent on therapy.
Then there’s Josh Gad, who I’m slowly starting to build much respect for. He continues to take on roles that are self-deprecating but he manages to portray them in such a way as to come off as ‘the loser,’ but a lovable loser. His Neil might be the best showcase of Gad’s talents. A few other supporting roles contribute, and not the least of which is Pink (a.k.a. Alecia Moore)’s Dede, who joins the support group further into the film; as well, Patrick Fugit plays Mike’s son, Danny, who suddenly reappears in Mike’s life at perhaps an inopportune moment.
There’s no denying Thanks For Sharing‘s bold subject matter — sex addiction is quite the taboo topic and this very fact begs a lot of interesting questions and suggests many an intriguing angle that the director might have and should have taken. Instead, Blumberg relies on old-fashioned romantic-comedy formula to get us through the awkwardness of it all. Relationships are developed as well as they are lost with the snap of a finger. While this is an oversimplification of certain developments and won’t make a great deal of sense until you watch the film yourself, it greatly detracted from any of my intrigue I had going into this film, and quite frankly the management of the relationships — namely between Ruffalo and Paltrow — was intensely annoying and equally so, too-pat and Hollywood-ized.
Let’s get one thing straight: the topic up for master debating in this motion picture is anything but glamorous. Yet Blumberg hires some pretty damn good looking people to bring a deeply personal — and to be repetitive, tabooed — story to the big screen. Please forgive me if the next statement comes off as cruel, but Josh Gad seems to be the most accurately cast actor to fulfill the requirements of a dramatized pervert. He’s a great actor. And he looks the part. I have a very difficult time doing the same with Mark Ruffalo (all Hulkified and shit) and the gorgeous Pepper Potts. There’s an element of insincerity in the cast’s attractiveness that simply doesn’t gel with what is at times some pretty excruciating material.
As Phoebe, Paltrow rarely has been more enticing, but still the object of her affections can’t trust her seemingly good intentions. One of the first things she tells Adam is that she “will never date another addict.” Having much difficulty in finding the right moment, Adam can’t bring himself to admit his problems to her; and then when that day comes, things go down just as one might expect. However, the movie cannot exactly be blamed for forcing an all-too conventional relationship into the story. Adam and Phoebe’s relationship is anything BUT conventional. Yet it’s still somewhat wholly unsatisfying and frustrating.
Fortunately, and to reiterate, the same things can’t be said of Gad’s Neil and his own journey. He becomes more of a centerpiece than Adam in some ways. And one of the more interesting threads ongoing is the complicated relationship between Neil and Adam. Partnered together in the rehab program, Adam is Neil’s “sponsor,” which roughly translates to some kind of confidant. At times, Neil is a gut-wrenchingly tragic character, but he has far more redemption than Adam seems to get or deserve. The same might have applied to Tim Robbin’s Mike had his character not been written as purely a stereotype. While the relationship between him and his son served as a heartwarming subplot, his place in the universe, his “kind” is chalked up to nothing more than a series of cliches.
In short, Thanks For Sharing is one of those hodgepodges of great talent mixing with sub-par material and gratuitously somber direction. There are great moments throughout — particularly pertaining to the meetings with everyone admitting their stories to one another — but there’s rarely a scene that doesn’t beg the question, “This couldn’t have been handled any better than this?” As its Blumberg’s debut feature, perhaps its just inexperience. I applaud him for embracing such a polarizing issue like this, but unfortunately this just feels far too safe for a drama, and too stiff to be labeled comedy for me to definitively approve of the guy as a director just yet.
Recommendation: There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Blumberg’s first film; however, it’s not developed enough to recommend fully. Catch it on a rental or Netflix or something later; this won’t be anything that will be remembered too soon, which is a shame, considering it’s one of the more interesting-sounding films I had heard of this year.
Running Time: 112 mins.
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