City Paper is not for tourists.
“It’s like trying to quit crack while the pipe is still attached to your body.” That’s how one character in Thanks for Sharing, the new drama by first-time director Stuart Blumberg, describes sexual addiction. It’s one of many bits of dialogue meant to educate audiences about a condition that, despite being recognized by nearly every medical and psychological association, is still viewed by many with skepticism. Driven by this social purpose—to reduce the stigma associated with sexual addiction—Thanks for Sharing never forgets to entertain. It adds up to a funny, fascinating, and deeply moving romantic comedy, a feel-good movie that earns every bit of its feeling.
At times, Thanks for Sharing borrows from those ubiquitous rom-coms with intersecting storylines, à la Love Actually or New Year’s Eve. We meet Mike (Tim Robbins), a middle-aged family man who has been in recovery for decades and seems to have all the answers; Adam (Mark Ruffalo), sober for five years and cautiously entering into his first real relationship with Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow); and Neil (Josh Gad), court-ordered to the group program after getting arrested for groping women in the subway. In various stages of recovery, Mike, Adam, and Neil are like three generations of a close-knit family, and as they navigate the turbulent waters of love and friendship, we see how the bonds of their sobriety keep them afloat.
It all feels deeply familiar. In fact, if you transposed the template of Thanks for Sharing onto a film about any other type of addiction (alcohol, drugs, etc.), it would feel embarrassingly rote. But when addressing taboo topics, convention is our friend, and this film uses its well-worn genre as a comfortable space for discussion. Ultimately, though, the rom-com angle is just a fake-out: Mike and Phoebe meet-cute at a party, but their relationship goes to complicated places usually avoided in commercial films. Neil forms a tenuous friendship with a female addict (Alecia Moore, better known to pop fans as Pink) that threatens to turn into something more—but doesn’t. This is not a film about love, but friendship between recovering addicts, and it even manages to subvert a genre that often treats its female characters as sexual objects.
The women in Thanks for Sharing get little screen time, which isn’t as sexist as it might seem: Only 12 percent of sexual addicts in recovery are women. Still, the film’s deconstruction of the male sexual gaze should not be dismissed, especially as its represents a trend in recent and upcoming films. Two films about sexual addiction—Don Jon and Nymphomaniac—will be released later this year, both of which follow last year’s painful-to-watch Shame. I suspect the softer Thanks for Sharing will find more commercial success: It educates and entertains without lingering in the darkness.