Written by Jessica Hanlon.
A tremendous amount of thought and care has gone into the writing of Thanks For Sharing, the sophomore directing effort of The Kids Are Alright co-writer Stuart Blumberg. In fact, you can see that there was a lot of discussion between him and co-writer Matt Winston about addiction, the way it relates to people and their unique characters in the movie. Sadly, despite these discussions, what could have been a smart, earnest and exploratory look at sex addiction never manages to elevate beyond a superficial and somewhat judgmental tale of the ways in which sex affects us in the modern-day.
Thanks for Sharing is the story of three men at various stages of the 12-step program in their recovery/self-help group for sex addicts. Mike (Tim Robbins) is the leader of the group and a veteran of anonymous self-help groups, a fatherly mentor and sponsor to Mike (Mark Ruffalo) an addict in recovery who, at the film’s opening, has been on the wagon for five years. He in turn becomes a mentor for Neil (Josh Gad), a young doctor whose clumsy attempts to attract women create a whole heap of problems for him. Together, the three of them avoid anything that could trigger a sexual response – pornography, masturbation, television and of course the deed of sex itself, unless of course, they are in a committed relationship.
Whilst this is not entirely unpromising material, writer-director Blumberg seems to fall short of crafting the smart romantic comedy he intends to. The first half of the film tries to walk the line between funny and serious, but falls short of both, often failing to strike the right chord as a dramedy. The film does come into its own in the second half as it builds to its dramatic crescendo. The tension in these later scenes are punctuated with confrontations, both physical and verbal, but they come together a little too nicely to really engage the audience. Undeniably, this is a result of the film’s biggest problem – underdevelopment.
The story of all three addicts feels very rushed and little explanation is provided about what got them into such situations. Adam’s reveal of the sexual low points that brought him to where he is now are surprisingly tame considering how severely he punishes himself for the course of the movie. Comparatively, although his behaviour points to a much darker and sinister place, Neil gets off pretty lightly with these more ominous overtones well abandoned by the film’s conclusion. The relationship between Mike and his son Danny is also quickly done away with, and is neither convincingly explained nor resolved despite the film’s valid attempts at trying to do both.
Easily the most believable relationship of the film is that of Gad’s Neil and Dede (Alecia Moore a.k.a pop star Pink), but it doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as it deserves. Instead, we are subject to the developing relationship of Adam and Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) – a relationship that is not only unbelievable thanks to the less than lacklustre chemistry between the two, but is also wasted as a chance to explore these characters in any depth. As Phoebe, Paltrow is a bit player in the bigger game of Adam and to some extent Mike’s recovery, and as such is truly wasted here – as is much of the cast.
As Mike’s wife, Joely Richardson’s screen time is squandered focusing on the more tepid storylines her character is involved in. Robbins is also given very little to do as Mike, a fact only heightened by his phoned in performance. A bright light, Ruffalo brings his enhancing quality here doing his best with Adam; the somewhat dull tone of his performance a product of the underdeveloped screenplay which plagues the film.
Showing similar skills, Moore truly shines in her debut performance as Dede, the only female addict of the piece. Both convincing and amusing, her portrayal of a young woman struggling to control her impulses without changing who she is offers a glimpse into the kind of potential the movie really has. Her relationship with Neil is both honest and heart-warming, allowing Gad to succeed in winning you over – a feat which makes his performance one of the most effective here.
This isn’t a bad film. Whilst perhaps not treading the same water as Steve McQueen’s dark, haunting and masterful Shame, the film does a wonderful job of taking you on the rise and fall that addicts so frequently experience. The film is expertly shot, the grainy scenes of New York adding a welcome depth to the film and its characters. Equally impressive is the sound design, with the score and soundtrack masterfully creating tone and warmth. Sound is expertly employed when characters experience moments of doubt; weighing up the decision to relapse.
Overall, Thanks for Sharing is a film you want to like more than you can – largely because of the performances of Ruffalo, Moore and Gad. Taking on three different stories that don’t meld together as well as they should, means that the best Blumberg can achieve is a limited and somewhat superficial take on each. The end result is a film that is sometimes funny, sometimes poignant and sometimes provides an insight into addiction, but never as deeply satisfying as it could have been.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10