Enough has not been enough for the troubled, sex-addicted characters at the core of Thanks for Sharing, and the central conceit of this refreshingly unusual but not always engaging dramedy is that 12-step programs for the libidinal-overcooked are not necessarily laughing matters. As one recovering sex addict tells the group about the struggle for normality, “It’s like trying to quit crack while the pipe’s attached to your body.”
Let’s face it: Sexaholism therapy isn’t considered very sexy, but therein lies the rub of this movie’s semi-charm. In this cross-stitched portrait of diverse N.Y.C. denizens with a similar problem, Mark Ruffalo stars as a horn dog in recovery, with Tim Robbins as his presumably older, wiser “been there, done that” sponsor, but with baggage of his own and a father-son issue to resolve. Josh Gad, an ample fellow with over-ample interest in lusty excesses, fills the role as resident jester, but the film occupies a weird space between seriousness and funny, which is ultimately part of its identity problem.
Where Thanks for Sharing transcends its fairly generic portrayal of 12-step lows and highs, missteps and badge-earning achievements, is in its approach to that familiar domain of cinema (and life): sex. Our hero Ruffalo finds himself straining to maintain his “sobriety” (aka avoidance of cheap sex) and romantically connect with a genuine love interest (Gywneth Paltrow, in fine form, and quite sexy). One telling and casual role-playing encounter in the film shifts eerily from titillation to emotional dismantling in a dizzy, short period.
Underscoring the glib surfaces of Thanks for Sharing is the valid notion that sexual avarice can be stoked by contemporary mass media and the movies — not to mention the Wild West that is the Internet — which have helped to create an atmosphere of sexualized consciousness and destabilized values. But that’s a larger, systemic situation difficult to address in a specific way in the forum of a film. Cold showers and 12-step maneuvering hold no sway there.