A striking cinematic portrayal of sex addiction hit screens two years in the form of Steve McQueen‘s Shame. McQueen’s searing film is unrelenting to the point where it drowns us in the misery of its central character, but at least there’s honesty at the core of the picture. Director Stuart Blumberg attempts a somewhat lighter tone with Thanks for Sharing, and while that’s not necessarily problematic, he goes about it such a superficial, ham-fisted way as to undermine almost all of the drama. Putting aside the efficacy of “Anonymous” groups like Sexaholics Anonymous, two-thirds of the movie plays out like a PSA ad but with real actors struggling to sell the horrendous and preachy dialogue. Blumberg and co-writer Matt Winston‘s script struggles to be anything more than a cheap attempt at easy drama as it prays on addiction rather than making an earnest try at conveying it.
Neil (Josh Gad) is a sexaholic, who’s new to a support group. His sponsor Adam (Mark Ruffalo) has been sober for five years, and Adam’s sponsor Mike (Tim Robbins) has been sober for fifteen years. The movie lays out the parameters of sex addiction by explaining that it’s about restraint rather than complete abstinence. Adam feels like he’s ready to try a romantic relationship, and quickly strikes one up with Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow). Neil struggles to even begin the program, but after he loses his job for trying to record a video looking up his boss’ skirt, he starts to take recovery seriously. Meanwhile, Mike cautiously trusts his estranged son Danny (Patrick Fugit), a recovering drug addict who has returned home and says he’s been able to “white-knuckle it” rather than use a support group.
The Adam and Mike stories are almost unbearable. Adam’s relationship with Phoebe is phony from their first date as they exchange “witty” banter like Phoebe revealing she has fake breasts because she had a mastectomy due to breast cancer, and Adam jokes, “Is that what they mean by booby prize?” These are two people trying to one-up each other in cleverness, and the contrived dialogue drains their relationship of all credibility. When the inevitable drama comes in with Adam revealing his sex addiction, there’s no weight to the reveal. It’s “How do I tell my partner I’m a recovering sex addict, and what if she can’t handle it?” It’s difficult to believe that Adam has been going to meetings for five years, and has never considered how this situation would play out.
Mike’s story fares only slightly better, but Robbins plays the character like such an implacable jerk that any reconciliation with Danny comes because the script demands it. The film also runs into the problem of upholding meetings as some magic cure-all that’s always there to comfort an addict in their time of trouble. That’s fine, but it also means the meeting is the new addiction, and the movie never raises the point of Mike’s dependency on those meetings overriding his compassion just because Danny was able to kick his addiction without group support. Also, since this is a soft-serve drama, we’re once again forced in a predictable arc where the ultimate resolution is obvious from the moment the Mike-Danny relationship begins.
The only trace of humanity comes from Neil’s addiction. When Neil explains how losing his job was a wake-up call, it has power because it’s what sets him on his path. Thanks in part to Gad’s performance, Neil’s story doesn’t feel like a cautionary tale, but a real situation as well as a way to help provide a clearer picture of sex addiction to the audience. Neil isn’t the handsome Adam who doesn’t have to struggle to pick up ladies for one night stands, nor does Neil present himself as someone who would call up escorts. He’s a public pervert, but we have sympathy for him thanks to Gad’s sweet disposition. The story then finds a way to give Neil momentum by pairing him with Dede (Alicia Moore), who’s also new to the program. Even though she’s saddled with lame jokes, there’s at least an unusual partnership that makes Neil better through unexpected ways that are funny but not flippant.
The Neil/Dede storyline proves that there’s a way to go about showing sex addiction without the unremitting sadness. However, Blumberg has used sex addiction as a crutch to prop-up undercooked relationship stories. There’s already a perception that sex addiction isn’t a real disease like alcoholism or drug addiction, and treating sex addiction so cheaply is almost insulting. The problem with sex addiction is that it prevents the possibility of intimacy. Thanks for Sharing provides the illusion of intimate relationship, but all it really has to offer is empty sentiment and platitudes.