Published Oct 17, 2013Without any sense of subtlety or consciousness for his muddled thematic trajectory, Stuart Blumberg opens Thanks for Sharing (his directorial debut) with a giant advertisement of half-naked women before panning down to an NYC street where one of his self-righteous, recovering sex addict character clichés is milling about. The ham-fisted implication is that sex is everywhere — it's inescapable — and for those trying to avoid it, life can be difficult.
Though the inherent social hypocrisy present in a modernist, yet Judeo-Christian, culture, wherein sex is a glorified but contrarily shameful act reserved for baby making, could make for an intriguing dialogue within the lexicon of sex addition, this formulaic issue movie is more interested in preaching and parroting. This starts early when Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is told by his married sex addict sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins), that after five years of sobriety, it's time to take the next step by engaging in a bland, traditionalist, lily white relationship.
The severity of the illness (one that's eventually compared to breast cancer without any self-consciousness or startled reaction) is spelled out early, with sex addicts telling their sob stories at group meetings, where we learn, mostly through sarcastic newcomer and subway groper Neil (Josh Gad), that the road to health is through repression and denial. Ostensibly, this cult of shame is built upon Catholicism, with the sinners — those that dare indulge in the flesh — finding balance through self-punishment, avoiding masturbation and all possible triggers of sexual desire (something that's surely perpetual after years of not masturbating or screwing) such as television, the Internet and in Neil's case, the subway.
That this group is preoccupied with tackling the symptom of the issue rather than the cause is entirely ignored. The rules of avoidance are implicit in the text, making the resulting plotlines, as facile as they are, that much harder to digest.
Adam starts dating a marathon runner and recovering cancer patient (Gwyneth Paltrow), whom he meets at some painfully pretentious party where everyone bonds by eating crickets ("look how du rigueur and unconventional we all are!"). Their relationship, though founded on astoundingly shallow conversation and a tendency to make terrible impressions for each other, goes well until she finds out that he used to bang just about anything with a hole years prior. He compares her sick fixation on calories and working out to sex addiction and, being WASPs, they passive-aggressively part ways and retreat into their own self-pity and relapse, respectively.
Mike, on the other hand, reluctantly tackles his judgemental, oft-hostile relationship with his drug-addict son (Patrick Fugit), not realizing that his inability to trust his child or offer him love are representations of his self-loathing. In a way, this is mirrored by Neil's tendency to rely on food and creepy perversion (filming up skirts and rubbing his junk on strangers against their will) as a means of compensating for his lack of self-confidence and worth.
None of these storylines move beyond basic conflict scenarios, wherein obvious triggers result in a crisis of conscience and possible relapse, leaving only the occasional joke from Neil about feeling like Il Postino while riding a bike to make things tolerable.
But even jokes are frowned upon in this universe. Adam tells Neil that making light of the situation is merely an avoidance tactic, which suggests that recovery needs to be as humourless and sanctimonious as this transparent and entirely undiscerning bit of moral vanity. Blumberg never questions the status quo or the methods of recovery, just as he never challenges the endless urban pretence surrounding his characters, such as interpretive dance spaces and politically idealized tirades.
Thanks for Sharing is little more than the propping up of an issue to sustain the identity and ego of someone that has little to offer beyond regurgitating the banal headlines of their surrounding culture. (Mongrel Media)