Film Review: Thanks for Sharing

Not perfect, but Stuart Blumberg manages an impressive balance of laughs and serious emotion in this absorbing, entertaining study of the sexual addiction of New Yorkers.

Thanks for Sharing, which happens to be the mantra-like response to soul-baring revelations in addiction group therapy, focuses on three men whose lives are impacted by their endless obsession with sex. The somewhat insufferably superior Mike (Tim Robbins) is the lead guru of one particular group, who doles out eyeball-rolling aphorisms and those coveted coins denoting the length of time members have abstained from even so much as masturbating. Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is a successful environmental consultant celebrating a full five years of “sobriety,” while young ER medic Neil (Josh Gad) is the newbie, a horndog so out of control he’s been fired from his job for trying to photograph up his supervisor’s skirt. Each of them is sorely tested by relationships and life in Manhattan, with all three reaching an almost simultaneous, dire breaking point.

Although much coyer in regard to actual sex or full-frontal nudity than Steve McQueen’s unrelievedly doleful Shame, writer-director Stuart Blumberg, making his helmer’s debut, has turned out a much funnier and more relatable and detailed account of sexual addiction. His characters are strongly drawn, with a tasty stripe of mordant humor that feels deeply authentic. He viscerally captures the frenetic pace and overcrowded hubbub of city life which drives people and can also drive them crazy. Manhattanites are always just too close together, rubbing up against one another and forever surrounded by libidinous ad images of near-nude hotties. Some of Blumberg’s scripted situations may feel a tad too pat (as with the overrated The Kids Are All Right), but the genuine sincerity of his intentions, sharp writing and strong performances handily override your reservations, and when you come out of it, you feel like you’ve seen and experienced some rare, real human feeling on the screen (which was also the key to Silver Linings Playbook’s success).

Ruffalo’s ever-present humanity and immediacy make him perfect Everyman casting for Adam, and they also render Adam the character you can most easily identify with. His timing and energy make Adam’s gradual descent back into the jaws of hell one fraught, absorbing ride. The main reason for that descent, Phoebe, a girl he meets when he decides to begin dating again, is played by Gwyneth Paltrow in a way that you makes you fully understand why he stumbles. Admittedly, it’s all too easy to find similarities between Paltrow’s smug off-screen persona and Phoebe, with her overall finickiness, picky vegetarianism and infuriating superiority. (That Upper East Side nasal twang of a voice alone could almost make anyone flee for the nearest bottle, drug or whore.) Paltrow’s general irksomeness inevitably lowers the stakes of any will-they-won’t-they-get-together romantic suspense here. Phoebe’s a tough role to carry off to sympathy, and Paltrow is unfortunately unable to do what Dorothy McGuire successfully did with her wafflingly anti-Semitic part in Gentleman’s Agreement.

Robbins gives one of his strongest performances, making a nice acting transition into character dad roles, a fit modern Henry Fonda or Gregory Peck. He has a believable authority and fine conviction when the cracks in Mike’s perfect, sober veneer begin to appear. I only wish Blumberg hadn’t used that syrupy violin music over his big rapprochement with his estranged, wayward son (Patrick Fugit, strikingly good). It deeply undermines the honest emotional effectiveness of this moving scene and, unfortunately, is not the only over-obvious misuse of music in the film.

Gad, who became a star in an overrated performance on Broadway in the overrated The Book of Mormon, here completely won me over. The manic, hyper-comic intensity he delivers is what we’ve come to expect from him, but he also reveals here a true vulnerability and sweetness which make Neil, fucked up as he is, quite lovable. He has a charming chemistry with Pink (aka Alecia Moore, quite real and lovely), who plays Dede, a punk girl who’s the only female in the SA group. (Their relationship, although blessedly platonic, is far more interesting and fresh than that of Adam and Phoebe.)

Joely Richardson is rather wasted as Mike’s (obviously) long-suffering wife, while Carol Kane does her usual dippy shtick as Neil’s batty, over-controlling mother, a too-easy, weirdly unfunny cliché Blumberg might have avoided. However, such are the true strengths and solid achievements of his film that, despite such missteps, it can be highly recommended nevertheless.