The first directorial feature from Stuart Blumberg, the writer of “The Kids Are All Right,” is an ensemble, romantic comedy-drama that looks really good on paper, but is a bit of a mess. That’s a shame because all these actors are usually fun to watch.
“Thanks for Sharing” starts in a meeting for sexaholics, and introduces the sober Mike (Tim Robbins), the younger Adam (Adam Ruffalo), and the young and shlubby Neil (Josh Gad). All are doing the work of recovering addicts, with Mike as the stern veteran, and Neil as the man most struggling with his issues.
Stuart Blumberg sets up these characters with three parallel narratives. Adam, five years sober, meets Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) at a trendy Manhattan party — they’re eating crickets! — and wants to transition into a real relationship, but can’t bring himself to tell her about his past. Mike has to deal with the return, after many years, of his drug addict son (Patrick Fugit). And Neil finds it impossible to do the work of recovery until he meets another addict, DeDe (the rock star Pink), and the two strike up a supportive friendship.
From someone who got so much right with “The Kids,” watching this film careen from tone to tone, from boffo, “chubby guy on bike” comedy to “Requiem for a Dream” darkness is disconcerting and baffling. Worse is the pacing, with scenes stopping just before anything awkward (read: interesting) begins. For example, much is made of Neil going over to his mom’s to finally confess that he’s a sex addict. After some motherly kvetching from a scene stealing Carol Kane, we cut to another parallel story. One winds up thinking about all the conversations we don’t hear instead of the ones we do.
The topic of sex addiction is still new and rarely explored in mainstream, even indie film. Steve McQueen’s film “Shame” showed it in a very dark way, but more often than not, it’s treated as softcore titillation, and always focuses on a female character. It’s a difficult illness to comprehend as it strikes at the heart of our human biological nature — many men will probably wish they could be like Mr. Ruffalo’s Adam, and those of us who fail to get sex can see themselves in Neil’s furious bouts of internet masturbation. Even that dichotomy is revealed in Blumberg’s broad choices — because Adam is handsome, his story is played very seriously, whereas Neil’s frottage, up-skirt perversion, and self-abuse are the “comic relief.” (Or just compare their two Internet porn scenes and how they’re shot and scored.)
Mike’s arc further confuses the sex addiction theme with rote father-son antagonism, accusations, and a dark-night-of-the-soul moment that leaves us confused: is this really about Mike’s sex addiction — or his alcoholism?
“Thank You for Sharing” could have taken one of the three storylines and, with deeper exploration, produced something more nuanced and faceted. In fact, Neil’s relationship with DeDe is the most enjoyable of the three, and Pink (in her debut) holds steady against her more experienced co-stars. However, “Thanks for Sharing” is a flaccid experience, pun intended.
‘Thanks for Sharing’
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow,
Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad
Length: 112 minutes
Rating: R for language and some strong sexual content
Playing at:Paseo Nuevo