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Stuart Blumberg Really Wants To Talk About Sex

Sep 20, 2013
Originally published on September 20, 2013 5:28 pm

When somebody enters a 12-step program to deal with addiction, it's meant to be an all-encompassing, life-changing process — and one we don't always hear about.

But in Stuart Blumberg's romantic comedy Thanks for Sharing, which hits theaters this weekend, the 12-step program is front and center. In this case it's for people struggling day to day with sex addiction, forging bonds with their fellow addicts and sponsors.

And, in the case of the character played by Mark Ruffalo, with a new girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow). Indeed, the film's central story line is about what happens when someone with an addiction tries to connect — to open up — to someone who doesn't share that burden.

"One of the really tough parts about this addiction is sex becomes a drug," Blumberg says. "It doesn't become, necessarily, an avenue for exploring intimacy. And ostensibly, you want sex to be exciting and fun and thrilling, but you also want the ability to share tender feelings. And in the stories I heard [while doing research], the thing that was most challenging for a lot of people was recombining those two things."

Sex is everywhere at the movies, of course, but it's often sex for sex's sake, presented because it's time to show someone's body. But Blumberg, who was one of the writers behind The Kids Are All Right and The Girl Next Door, says that in Hollywood stories, sex is "not often looked [at] with an unflinching eye."

Blumberg talked with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish about making a movie about topics, and relationships, that are typically, and often intentionally, very private.


Interview Highlights

On researching the movie

I went to a ton of meetings. I had gone to Al-Anon meetings years ago because I had people in my life who had problems with alcohol, and so that's how I got introduced to 12-step programs. And through that I learned about the whole litany of programs people could go to, whether it's DA for people with debt, or OA for people who overeat, and SA and other things for people who have problems with sexual addiction.

You know in the course of the 2000s there were a lot of very high-profile examples of sex addiction, and I thought this is an idea whose time has come, and it's sort of entering the cultural zeitgeist. And I got interested, and I just started to, basically, go to meetings for sex addiction. And some of the meetings are open — where people can go if they're ostensibly just going to see if they belong. And I just started to accumulate stories that way.

On making a movie about recovery instead of about a crackup

I think people pruriently just love watching the descent. In my movie I wanted to show what happens when someone goes down the rabbit hole, but it was equally important for me to show, OK, what do you do once you make the decision to come out [of it]?

And the other thing I really wanted to talk about in this movie, [a thing] I really find fascinating and I've explored in other films, is people who make their own communities. And that's what I've found interesting, exploring these 12-step groups; they're sort of self-created communities of fellowship. Where other structures in society may have fallen, the nuclear family and all this stuff, these are people who found a way to really support each other, [and] be the kinds of people they want to be.

On how he think about sex in his movies

I think I'm trying to explore, in a fun, interesting, dramatic way, the part that sex plays in our lives — in all of its different manifestations. And, you know, we are messy sexual creatures. And I think that's really great film fodder. And so I've always found it really thrilling when people spoke to me without pandering to me about this — presented it in a really honest way. And that's something I've tried to do.

On sex-addiction skeptics

Well I think that people, when they think about sex, that's something that people consider a natural endeavor that humans participate in. And so they have a hard time categorizing it as something that one can get addicted to. I think it's much easier for people to look at something like heroin or look at something like booze, and wrap their minds around that.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

When somebody enters a 12-step program for drugs, alcohol, gambling, it's meant to be an all-encompassing, life-changing process, and we rarely hear about it. But in the new movie "Thanks for Sharing," the 12-step program is front and center. And in this case, it's for sex addicts, regular folks struggling with day-to-day addiction.

The ensemble cast includes Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow. In this scene, Ruffalo is talking on the phone late at night with a fellow addict who needs his help when his girlfriend, played by Paltrow, walks in.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THANKS FOR SHARING")

GWYNETH PALTROW: (As Phoebe) Who are you on the phone with?

MARK RUFFALO: (As Adam) My sponsor.

PALTROW: (As Phoebe) Really? At 2 o'clock in the morning?

RUFFALO: (As Adam) Yeah. He was calling to check in.

PALTROW: (As Phoebe) Hmm. Can I see your phone?

RUFFALO: (As Adam) Are you serious?

PALTROW: (As Phoebe) You don't want me to see your phone?

RUFFALO: (As Adam) No, and I resent you asking me to see it.

PALTROW: (As Phoebe) Which makes me think that you're hiding something.

CORNISH: Establishing trust - just one of the many challenges facing a former sex addict. Writer and director Stuart Blumberg says getting this story right required serious and thoughtful research.

STUART BLUMBERG: I had gone to Al-Anon meetings years ago because I had people in my life who had problems with alcohol, and so that's how I got introduced to 12-step programs. And through that, I learned about the whole litany of programs that people could go to - whether it's DA for people in debt, or OA for people who overeat, and SA and other things for people who have problems with sexual addiction.

You know, in the course of the 2000s, there were a lot of very high-profile examples of sex addiction, and I thought this is an idea whose time has come, and it's sort of entering the cultural zeitgeist. And I got interested, and I just started to basically go to meetings for sex addiction. And some of the meetings are open, where people can go if they're ostensibly just going to see if they belong. And I just started to accumulate stories that way.

CORNISH: And the movie centers on three stories. There is a character named Adam, who has been celibate for several years and is just starting to get back into the dating scene. And we have a little clip of Adam and his newish girlfriend, Phoebe, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. And they're having a fight, basically - one of their first fights.

BLUMBERG: Mm-hmm.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THANKS FOR SHARING")

RUFFALO: (As Adam) For me, for so long, you know, I - sex was like this, like, secretive chase for a fix, right? And now with us, it's really hard for me to connect that to something that's loving and intimate and real. And it's not you. What? What?

PALTROW: (Phoebe) Please stop. I don't know if I can do this.

CORNISH: Stuart Blumberg, that scene, I have to admit...

BLUMBERG: Light stuff.

CORNISH: Yeah. Well, of all the things I thought about, in terms of the movie and sex addiction, it didn't occur to me what happens when you try and reintegrate, right? What happens when you try to enter the dating scene again.

BLUMBERG: Have a healthy relationship, yeah. Yeah, it's - that was one thing that struck me was - I think one of the really tough parts about this addiction is sex becomes a drug. It doesn't become, necessarily, an avenue for exploring intimacy. And ostensibly, that's, you know, you want sex to be exciting and kind of fun and thrilling; but you also want it to have the ability to, you know, share tender feelings. And the stories I heard, the thing that was most challenging, for a lot of people, was recombining those two things.

CORNISH: Often, Hollywood will introduce us to a character, and we go with them down the rabbit hole into their descent. But the lights come up when they get to the part where they've decided to go get help.

BLUMBERG: Right.

CORNISH: And why is it difficult to do a movie like you're doing? I mean, why isn't the interest there about what happens next?

BLUMBERG: I think people pruriently just love watching the descent. In my movie, I wanted to show what happens when someone goes down the rabbit hole. But it was equally important for me to show, OK, and then what do you do once you make the decision to come out? And the other thing I really wanted to talk about in this movie, that I really find fascinating and I've explored in other films, is people who make their own communities. And that's what I've found interesting exploring these 12-steps groups, are - it's - they are sort of self-created communities of fellowship, where other structures in society may have fallen in the nuclear family and all this stuff. These are people who found a way to really support each other, be the kinds of people they want to be.

CORNISH: It's interesting that you talk about this idea behind your other films as well because people might not know that you are one of the writers behind "The Kids Are All Right," about a lesbian couple where their sperm donor comes back, right...

BLUMBERG: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...introduced into their family dynamic.

BLUMBERG: Exactly.

CORNISH: You also were behind the movie "The Girl Next Door," where an adult film star moves next door to a teenager.

BLUMBERG: Yes.

CORNISH: But these all have to do with sex. And it's not an easy thing - even though we think that sex is everywhere in films, I don't feel like it's everywhere the way you're trying to do it.

BLUMBERG: Right. I - it's not often sort of looked with an unflinching eye.

CORNISH: It's often sex for sex sake, right?

BLUMBERG: Yeah.

CORNISH: It's just in there because now it's time to show the actress' body. (Laughter)

BLUMBERG: Yes. Cue the boob.

CORNISH: And what are you trying to do differently?

BLUMBERG: I think I'm trying to explore in a fun, interesting, dramatic way the part that sex plays in our lives, in all of its different manifestations. And, you know, we are messy sexual creatures; and I think that's really great film fodder. And so I've always found it really thrilling when people spoke to me - without pandering to me about this, but really presented it in a really honest way. And that's something I've tried to do.

CORNISH: Well, Stuart Blumberg, this movie was obviously a fascinating challenge, and thank you so much for talking with us about it.

BLUMBERG: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

CORNISH: Writer-director Stuart Blumberg. His new movie is called "Thanks for Sharing." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.