“Thanks for Sharing”: Sex addicts of the world, unite!

Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim Robbins star in a soapy, compelling fable of compulsive horndogs in recovery

Topics: Movies, Comedy, Romantic comedy, Sex Addiction, Recovery, 12 steps, Thanks for Sharing, Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right, Sex, Gwyneth Paltrow, mark ruffalo, Tim Robbins,

"Thanks for Sharing": Sex addicts of the world, unite!

Anyone with a soft spot for big, lumpy, ambitious ensemble movies that try to smush in every possible emotion and every possible genre should proceed with a mixture of eagerness and caution toward Stuart Blumberg’s directing debut, “Thanks for Sharing.” I’m definitely looking at you if you’re an admirer of Kenneth Lonergan’s almost-great post-9/11 opus “Margaret,” or if you contend that James L. Brooks’ movies haven’t necessarily gotten worse, only less popular, or if you have secretly watched the Jake Gyllenhaal-Anne Hathaway rom-com flop “Love and Other Drugs” more than once. (I know, me too. It keeps getting better and worse at the same time!) And of course, yes, there was that Oscar movie last year with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper wearing a garbage bag, which I reviewed very positively at the time and subsequently pretended to dislike.

I am powerless to control my addiction to this kind of talky, theatrical, pseudo-therapeutic picture, which doesn’t mean – as with other kinds of addictions – that I’m entirely happy about it. Anybody who’s done time in or around a 12-step movement will immediately understand that the title of Blumberg’s film is highly specific: It’s what you might say, with or without some degree of irony, after someone in your circle has told their self-aggrandizing and/or self-hating story about all the wretched things they used to do (and are likely still doing) and how they’re handling the whole “one day at a time” business. I have the uncomfortable but compelling feeling, in fact, that “Thanks for Sharing” is drawn from life, and that one or more of the characters are based on the writer-director. (Blumberg is best known for co-writing the Oscar-nominated screenplay to Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right,” and wrote this one with Matt Winston.)



In “Thanks for Sharing,” Mark Ruffalo and Tim Robbins play two longtime members of a 12-step group for sex addicts who will – big spoiler ahead! – face numerous crises and emergencies despite their years of alleged sobriety. I can’t claim I didn’t learn something from the fascinating portrayal of this particular recovery movement. I didn’t know, for instance, that “sobriety” for sex addicts doesn’t just mean abstaining from non-monogamous interpersonal action, but may also include no TV, no Internet, no cellphones, no riding on subways or buses and no masturbation. As Robbins’ character, a Brooklynite named Mike with working-class roots who appears to own an entire brownstone (yes, definitely possible, but not explained), explains, this particular addiction comes with unique challenges: “It’s like trying to quit smoking crack when the pipe is attached to your body.”

It’s traditional in this kind of movie for supporting characters to outshine the alleged dramatic center, and such is the case here with Robbins’ white-haired, blue-collar, cliché-spouting character, who comes on strong as Mr. Zen Meditation Recovery Guru, but also has unacknowledged anger issues and a conflict with his adult son (Patrick Fugit) he hasn’t even begun to deal with. Even Joely Richardson, in what’s almost a wallpaper role as Mike’s wife, Katie, is a more compelling character than the tortured, earnest Adam (Ruffalo), who after five years of zero sexy-time is ready to start dating and picks a cancer survivor and fitness freak played by Gwyneth Paltrow. I love watching Ruffalo in almost anything – he always makes interesting choices and (as they say) he’s always present – and I’m not a Gwyneth-hater at all. But slapping the two of them together and asking us to care about cancer and recovery and eating disorders and their incipient but troubled romance all in one go is like a quadruple dose of sugar-frosted sincerity. I couldn’t wait for Adam to go off the rails and start texting Estonian prostitutes (and I cannot print the term he uses to describe them in a late-night phone call to Mike).

Then there’s the third-wheel character who’s not so secretly the real hero of the movie, the nebbishy, overweight E.R. doctor named Neil (Josh Gad, aka “the other Jonah Hill”), who starts out attending the sex-addict meetings only to fulfill a court order, and then gets fired from his job for shooting upskirt videos of his attractive boss. Neil lies about his sobriety, refuses to destroy his immense porn collection, gropes women on the subway, hits bottom with a resounding crash and then finds salvation in an unlikely friendship with Pink. No, I’m entirely serious – the singer Pink, also known as Alecia Moore, here plays Dede, one of the group’s only female members, and the connection between Dede and Neil, which at first stretches credibility to the breaking point, may be the best thing about “Thanks for Sharing.”

Dede’s not initially attracted to Neil, which is why she picks him as a confidant, and then she realizes that he possesses the raw material for a totally awesome guy, but by that point they’re both making strides, against all odds, with their sobriety. It’s a strong-coffee jolt of wonderful, lived and irresistible real-people drama, in the middle of a movie that’s immensely muddled overall but that I couldn’t stop watching. I bet I wasn’t supposed to find it hot, for instance, when Adam ditches the rabbit-diet fitness chick and hooks up with a clearly disturbed ex-girlfriend (Emily Meade) who wants to play out an alarming fantasy. But it’s those fragments of darkness and danger, around the edges, that give this brave, well-meaning and self-indulgent dramedy its gravitational pull.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...