A game cast — including Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins and Josh Gad — can't lift this tale of sexual compulsion and recovery out of the Lifetime doldrums
“I have a lack of impulse control,” says Adam (Mark Ruffalo), and that's putting a very fine point on it. As a recovering sex addict, just walking in New York City is a minefield for him, with lingerie billboards and stylishly dressed women on every block testing his sobriety.
Adam's is one of several intertwining stories in “Thanks for Sharing,” a comedy-drama from “The Kids Are All Right” co-writer Stuart Blumberg. And while it focuses on a different kind of 12-step meeting than we're used to seeing on screen, it slips too easily into an all-too-familiar addiction narrative: Gut-spilling, backsliding, confrontation, hypocrisy and redemption will all be ticked off the checklist by the final scene.
Grappling with his addiction makes Adam something of a control freak — he's got a cell-phone that doesn't take pictures and a laptop with locked-down web access, and when he travels, he makes the hotel take the TV (and that tempting pay-per-view) out of his room. What he hasn't had in years is a relationship — until Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) comes bounding into his life.
Sexy, energetic and funny, she appears to be Ms. Right, but of course there's a catch: She used to date an alcoholic and has resolved not to get involved with any more addicts; so Adam has to keep secrets from her to stay in the relationship. (One of the interesting facets of Phoebe's character is that she's a breast-cancer survivor who's a little self-conscious about her surgery, making her perhaps the first character in cinema history who has a valid excuse for keeping her bra on during sex.)
Phoebe finds out about Adam's past and doesn't bail, but she allows it to color her feelings. Meanwhile, Adam's sponsor Mike (Tim Robbins) has problems of his own, with a son (Patrick Fugit) who feels neglected and untrusted by a father who's got time and patience for the weaknesses of men in fill-in-the-blank Anonymous groups all over town.
Adam himself becomes a sponsor, for neurotic physician Neil (Josh Gad, “The Book of Mormon”), who enters the program under court order. Neil's blithe about recovery at first, but once he hits bottom, he starts taking it seriously, even befriending fellow group member Dede (Alecia Moore, aka pop star Pink).
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Given how overstuffed and overwritten so much of “Thanks for Sharing” is, it might have behooved Blumberg (who co-wrote with Matt Winston) to pare the film down to the Neil-Dede relationship, which feels a lot fresher and less predictable than the other ones. Her laid-back detachment complements his sweaty histrionics, and together they create a real spark of both spiritual damage and restorative mutual affection.
The ironic counterpoint of Mike being a mensch to strangers and a jerk to his own kid is delivered with bludgeoning force, and not even Ruffalo and Paltrow's chemistry can make the Adam-Phoebe plot feel new. Substitute his sex addiction for, say, alcohol or cocaine, and it's a tale that's been told countless times.
Still, it's in the details of sex addiction and how people in recovery lead their day-to-day existence — the subway, for instance, is a big no-no, what with all those bodies in close contact — that “Thanks for Sharing” occasionally feels like a novel approach to a tried-and-true subject. But there aren't enough of those revelations to elevate an otherwise didactic tale.