Genuine medical condition or convenient excuse for bad behaviour? Sex addiction has become a controversial affliction, but Thanks for Sharing comes firmly down on the former side of the argument. The directorial debut of Stuart Blumberg, who also co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for The Kids Are All Right, explores the travails of a number of sufferers linked by their attendance at a sex addicts support group.
The youngest member of the group is Neil (Josh Gad), who ruins his promising career as an emergency room doctor when he is caught filming up the skirt of his supervisor. After he appears in court on sexual harassment charges, he is directed to attend the support group for his addiction, where he meets the slick, charismatic Adam (Mark Ruffalo) and the group’s de facto leader, the somewhat smug Mike (Tim Robbins), a middle-aged man who has battled multiple addictions and come out the other side with a beatific demeanour and a gentle cynicism.
Low on self-esteem and fond of lying and defensive wise-cracking, Neil initially struggles to complete the work prescribed by the group, but is forced to confront the truth of his situation when he is adopted as something of a mentor to a new recruit to the group, the self-destructive Dede (Pink, credited as Alecia Moore). Meanwhile, Adam starts seeing the driven Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), but is reluctant to reveal his past after she tells him her last relationship disintegrated because her ex was an alcoholic. Adam seeks guidance on this new development from Mike, whose estranged son Danny (Patrick Fugit), is suddenly back in town. Danny has battled a drug addiction but views the group therapy with suspicion and even hostility, leading to an uneasy truce with Mike, who suspects his son may not be as rehabilitated as he claims.
Not everything in Thanks for Sharing works — a subplot involving Adam’s ex-girlfriend Becky (Emily Meade) is a melodramatic misfire. It also has a curiously dated look and an often daggy sense of humour at odds with the potentially edgy material. Yet there’s much to admire here, including the strong central storyline and the committed performances. Josh Gad, recently the only good thing in the disastrous Jobs, is again terrific, while pop star Moore is an absolute revelation, bringing both a convincing toughness and a poignant vulnerability to the role of Dede.
While Thanks for Sharing doesn’t shy away from the potentially life-wrecking consequences of its characters compulsions (a scene where Mark Ruffalo fights his urges in a hotel room is particularly effective), ultimately this is a much softer film than the similarly themed Shame. That’s not a failing however; more a reflection that Blumberg’s film is just as interested in the makeshift community that forms amongst the addicts as the often harrowing details of their addictions.