Don't Worry, Kids, These (Sex) Addicts Are All Right

Sep 19, 2013

Somewhere between Tim Robbins' angry assumption about his wife's pain pills and Pink's ecstatic-dance excursion with the guy from Book of Mormon, I realized that the dealing-with-addiction drama Thanks for Sharing really, really wanted to tell me everything it knows about life in recovery. As a critic, I've gotta acknowledge the problems that kind of crowding creates for a storyteller. As a person, I've gotta admire the generosity it bespeaks.

The directorial debut from Stuart Blumberg, who co-wrote The Kids Are All Right with Lisa Cholodenko, Thanks for Sharing is a romantic comedy with a slight kink, a comedy of errors in which those mistakes come with consequences — but not too many to prevent a happy(ish) ending.

It's been compared, unfavorably, to the Michael Fassbender vehicle Shame, which treated essentially the same subject with a grand-operatic seriousness and heft — but to measure the two together is to misread Blumberg's intentions. He's not out to sell a voyeuristic saga about downward spirals and self-destructions; he's looking instead to dramatize the strategies, practical and metaphysical, that help an addict keep the bad at bay, one day at a time.

To that end he serves up three interlocking storylines about a serious-minded eco-entrepreneur (Mark Ruffalo), his avuncular sponsor (Robbins) in a 12-step program for sex addicts, and a hot mess of an ER trauma doc (Josh Gad) who's been referred involuntarily to "the rooms" — both a victim and a judge having taken exception to the nonconsensual jollies he's been getting on the subway.

Stories need catalytic disruptions to get properly started, so into each man's life a change is shortly gonna come: Ruffalo will meet a seemingly perfect woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) whose own issues aren't far from the surface; Robbins' long-prodigal son will return, claiming to have shaken his drug habit; Gad will hit an even lower bottom, then stumble over one of the 12-step model's core principles when he realizes that being useful to another struggling soul can make a person feel a lot better about his own worth.

It's a lot to keep track of, and that's without mentioning the under-the-surface observations Blumberg is keen on making — about the traps of cross-addiction, about compulsive behaviors we celebrate (relentless exercise, anyone?) rather than questioning, about the way a 12-stepper's commitment to the program can calcify into a hostility toward other ways of getting right.

And yet: Thanks for Sharing is such a relaxed, good-humored movie that it's tough to complain about its tendency to ... well, overshare. (Not in the explicit sense: Its approach to actual sex is by and large decorous, or at worst puckish.) Robbins, triangled off in domesticity with a serenely radiant Joely Richardson and a handsomely sullen Patrick Fugit, is all laconic, blue-eyed big-guy charisma. Ruffalo inflects his baseline shaggy-dog appeal with a whiff of the woebegone and just enough of a spine to encourage viewers to invest in his staying on the straight and narrow. Even Paltrow's recreational haters will have to admit she's playing gamely along here, as Blumberg subjects her character to some knowing sass about her diet and her training regimen.

And then there's Pink, billed here under her birth name, Alecia Moore, and popping off the screen with a beguiling vulnerability behind the badass shell. She's a vivid performer in her own right, and beyond that she makes a terrific foil for Gad, whose role calls for both focused intensity and the flop-sweat comedy that made him his name in Broadway's Mormon. Moore's deadpan amplifies Gad's exasperation over some of their shared insanity; his first-responder's competence provides a solid frame to contain her panic in a crisis moment. Together they make their shared storyline a whole lot more engaging than it might have been.

That shared storyline, and the others that wind around it, are still a good deal for one movie to negotiate. No surprise, then, that some resolutions feel a little pat, and some of the conflicts that require them a little pro forma.

But at least the strands don't snarl; Blumberg is an efficient, easygoing storyteller. And when you measure this basically charming chamber piece against the bloat and shove of, say, the ego-infested horror that was New Year's Eve -- where the admirable goal of cleverly intersecting stories somehow metastasized into a choking spaghetti-tangle of star turns connected loosely by product placement and a calendar item — you might just decide that, like a day in recovery, a little capably handled mess is enough to get contentedly by on.

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