All conflicts, emotions and plot mechanics pivot on the addiction itself. If you remove the disease, there would be no story. Indeed if you remove the disease, the characters would virtually cease to exist. Why, you wonder, don’t the filmmakers just make a documentary?
If Hollywood insists on preaching this sermon, I would suggest filmmakers take a look at one of the few mainstream movies to successfully do so, namely Blake Edwards’ “The Days of Wine and Roses.” First Edwards made you care about his characters — their love and eventually marriage — and only then did the problems with alcohol creep in. By then you know who these people were.
“Thanks for Sharing” is somewhat unique inasmuch as it deals with the still puzzling disease of sex addiction. Often the object of a punch line in a comic’s lame joke, the sex addict has not attained the glamour of the junkie or dark allure of the drunk.
“Isn’t that just an excuse when someone gets caught cheating?” asks one character in the movie.
But it’s real enough and not an excuse, which this movie more than makes plain since, again, the focus is on the anguish its mischanneled drives cause victims and not on the people themselves.
Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and Josh Gad play sex addicts at different stages of recovery. The movie, co-written and directed (for the first time) by Stuart Blumberg, who wrote the very smart screenplay for “The Kids Are All Right,” tries to draw this trio into a “family” of sorts — certainly a stronger unit then their own families — then later adds a forth member in a young, heavily tattooed woman played very well by pop star Alecia Moore (pictured below right).
The fact remains though that an audience would have zero interest in any of these characters if not for their affliction. There is almost no conflict, back story or emotional lives here other than the addiction itself. And the plot features so many contrivances to underscore the nature of the illness that the peripheral characters suffer.
Ruffalo’s Adam is made a political consultant of some sort, which is there only to force him to take trips out of town where he must remove all television sets from his hotel room (cable porn, remember?), carries no laptop (internet porn, remember?) and uses an old flip phone to make sure he can’t download anything.
How a political consultant gets his work done without a laptop or proper mobile phone is never explained.
But the dude is serious — five years “sober,” he proudly declares — and in turn has sponsored Neil (Gad, who does fine work playing Steve Wozniak in “Jobs,”currently in theaters). Neil is the one given a proper job, that of an ER doctor although he spends less time ministering to patients than acting in highly inappropriate ways.
The gray-haired senior citizen of the group is Robbins’ aphorism-spouting Mike. He runs some sort of home remodeling business you gather. There is one scene of an addict he hires going berserk on the job that requires the movie to show him briefly at work; otherwise his occupation is immaterial.
He also has a son, Danny (Patrick Fugit), who as a drug addict, exists to show you how Mike may have ended up and to remind Mike of how his own bad behavior may have influenced his only child.
Characters such as Danny and another played by Emily Meade turn up simply to highlight another aspect of addiction rather than as characters fully integrated into a story.
This is even true of a pivotal character played by Gwyneth Paltrow, a love interest for Adam to see if he can handle a normal relationship after a half decade of “sobriety.” Yet her often inappropriate if not callous behavior thoroughly undermines her character.
“Thanks for Sharing,” which Blumberg wrote with Matt Winston, never gets off Subject A. It also never develops any real sense of humor.
It gets some comic mileage out of Gad and his attempts to navigate New York’s city streets by bike and other means since his sponsor has forbidden him to ride the subway. (Too many female distractions in close quarters.)
But while avoiding those bad comic punch lines, the film really needed something to leaven the dark, somber beats of an addiction movie that includes far too many visits to SAA meetings.
The heavy-handedness extends to the camera work by cinematographer Yaron Orbach, who portrays Manhattan as a cornucopia of carnal desires with every billboard flashing female flesh and sidewalks and subways crowded with barely legal lovelies.
Opens: September 20, 2013 (Roadside Attractions)
Production: Olympus Pictures, Class 5 Films
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad, Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, Carol Kane, Alecia Moore, Emily Meade, Isiah Whitlock, Michaela Watkins, Poorna Jagannathan
Director: Stuart Blumberg
Screenwriters: Stuart Blumberg, Matt Winston
Producers: William Migliore, David Koplan, Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech, Miranda de Pencier
Executive producer: Edward Norton
Director of photography: Yaron Orbach
Production designer: Beth Mickle
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Costume designer: Peggy Schnitzer
Editor: Anne McCabe
R rating, 112 minutes