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Thanks For Sharing

Dir: Stuart Blumberg. US. 2012. 112mins

The daily lives of sex addicts are explored in satisfying, but not always compelling, ways in Thanks For Sharing, a dramatic comedy that probably could have done without a lot of the comedy. Mark Ruffalo and Tim Robbins lead a talented ensemble in screenwriter Stuart Blumberg’s directorial debut, but by trying to bring a misunderstood disease to the masses, the film sometimes shies away from darker and more interesting terrain.

Thanks For Sharing is a more accessible approach to the subject, observing how different sufferers learn to cope with an illness that’s often stigmatised.

Thanks For Sharing comes to the Toronto Film Festival looking for a distributor, and the betting is that the film’s starry cast, which also includes Gwyneth Paltrow, will help attract buyers. Although 12-step programmes and sexual addiction might not be commercially tantalising hooks, they’re treated in a broad, mainstream way here that will perhaps make them palatable to the general public.

Set in New York, the film focuses on a group of men (and one woman) in a support group for sexual addiction. Mike (Robbins) has been sober for well over a decade and believes wholeheartedly in the importance of attending meetings, a philosophy he’s instilled in Adam (Ruffalo), an environmental consultant who’s been sober five years and is finally willing to take a chance on a relationship when he meets Phoebe (Paltrow), a recent breast cancer survivor.

Additionally, there is Neil (Josh Gad), a doctor who won’t take his addiction seriously, and Dede (Alecia Moore, better known as pop superstar Pink), who wants to be able to relate to men outside of sex.

In his writing career, Blumberg has been able to blend comedy and drama successfully. (He wrote the underrated Edward Norton starrer Keeping The Faith and co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for The Kids Are All Right.) But with Thanks For Sharing, which he wrote with Matt Winston, he’s far more skilful dealing with the inherent drama of the situation. If last year’s Shame tackled sexual addiction with a stark, brooding tone, Thanks For Sharing is a more accessible approach to the subject, observing how different sufferers learn to cope with an illness that’s often stigmatised.

Of the different storylines, Adam and Phoebe’s is the most engaging, examining a new relationship that’s constantly threatened because of Adam’s disease. (He has yet to shake the negative connotations he’s associated with sex, and Phoebe previously dated an alcoholic and swore she’d never again get involved with an addict.) There’s a gentle honesty in their scenes, and Ruffalo and Paltrow have a relaxed, flirty chemistry that makes it easy to root for their relationship.

Less satisfying is Neil’s growing friendship with Dede, which clearly has been positioned as the “lighter” portion of this three-pronged narrative. Moore is actually quite confident and sexy as the no-nonsense Dede, but her interactions with goofball Neil are silly and sitcom-y rather than genuinely funny.

Somewhere in the middle is Mike’s uncomfortable reunion with his estranged son (Patrick Fugit), who like Mike has battled substance abuse but rejects his father’s fanaticism about 12-step programmes.

This subplot opens the door to the film’s most intriguing notion — that these friends’ devotion to each other and their meetings is, in its own way, as addictive as their illness — but Blumberg gives this idea short shrift, instead settling for a film with relatively tidy character arcs and feel-good storylines where everybody reconciles in the end. There are those who would argue that Shame was too severe in its exploration of addiction’s destructive power. If that’s the case, then Thanks For Sharing can be faulted for being too lightweight.

 

Production companies: Olympus Pictures, Class 5

International sales: Voltage Pictures, www.voltagepictures.com

Producers: William Migliore, David Koplan, Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech, Miranda de Pencier

Executive producer: Edward Norton

Screenplay: Stuart Blumberg and Matt Winston

Cinematography: Yaron Orbach

Production design: Beth Mickle

Editor: Anne McCabe

Music: Christopher Lennertz

Main cast: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, Alecia Moore

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