By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
“Sexual addiction?” skeptically muses Gwyneth Paltrow’s Phoebe in Stuart Blumberg’s “Thanks for Sharing” after Mark Ruffalo’s Adam divulges his affliction. “I thought that’s just something guys use if they get caught cheating.” Precisely, just what most of us thought. However, per this very well written, illuminating tale, a fiction doubtlessly inspired by some very hard facts, the sad truth is otherwise.
Indeed, added now to the filmic instruction we’ve received on alcoholism, gambling, drug dependency and the multifarious syndromes and offshoots that attend those blights, we get a borderline salacious, eye- and earful worthy of contemplation. Kick to the curb all the rationalizing euphemisms, like Don Juan, Lothario, and Casanova, for they are to this malady what high roller is to compulsive gambling and oenophile is to dipsomania.
Nope…this is the down and dirty wretched side of it…a treatise on the dismaying and potentially deleterious powers unleashed when we’re unable to navigate successfully through the wonders of freewill. The devastation is summed up in one terribly haunting scene, when Adam injudiciously invites to his digs an old flame (Emily Meade) with a masochistic father-fixation. Oy vey!
We cringe, and can’t help ponder the inherent unfairness…the forbidden apple part of virtually every pleasurable experience…even the seemingly more innocent indulgences. “Fatso” (1980), Anne Bancroft’s underrated meditation on gluttony, even found the Devil of substance abuse hiding in a box of donuts.
Alas, some of us don’t have properly set thermostats to govern our proclivities. The rub is, such is the stuff of being human, which all falls under the umbrella of The Art of Living.
Granted, the parameters of wrong, right and decency are decided by the psychologists, shamans and laws of the society in which we dwell. But the long and short of it, smartly delineated here by tight, knowing direction and touchingly empathic performances, is that behavior must ultimately be judged by how it affects a being and those around him.
Thus the story is told about four sexually addicted souls whose lives have come asunder, their destinies dictated by libidos gone awry. Seeking help, their paths intersect at SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous). Once we scrape the pernicious results of the disease from their persons, they are all likeable sorts.
At central focus is Adam, an acknowledged environmental guru. Apparently at a watershed in his road to recovery, he’s been living in total abstinence since he climbed
aboard the SAA wagon. But now, Mike, his aphorism-spouting sponsor played with big brother dignity by Tim Robbins, has given him the go-ahead to date.
Not so fast, rejoins Adam, referred to as ‘The Monk’ by his mentor. Hitherto, he has known only two speeds, or sexual modes: Asceticism, or all out libertine madness. Heretofore incapable of living up to the wisdom proffered in my alma mater’s seal — “Est Modus in Rebus” (The golden mean should always be observed) — he fears the tantalizations that might lurk in the so-called happy medium.
Of course this is Hollywood and so, despite the film’s acuity both academically and clinically, Cupid invokes the deus ex machina and plops down perfectly normal Phoebe (well, she’s not a sex addict) both to test Adam’s rehabilitation and inject the doings with a love story.
Giving us a look at the scourge from another perspective is the case of Neil, a young E.R. doc who can’t administer to his own emergency. Splendidly played by Josh Gad, the physician, via a telling visit to Mom’s house, offers some insight into the pathology of excess. Suffice it to note, his sexual indiscretions have resulted in a court order: Attend SAA or else. He is a frantic mess.
Mike, the aforementioned senior member in our purview is, quite the contrary, the picture of serenity…a 12-step aficionado whose embrace of Eastern philosophy is a major part of his salvation…so far. In a smaller but nonetheless important aspect of the movie’s exploration into this little discussed sickness, Pink (Alecia Moore) adds lots of spark as Dede, a punk-styled hairdresser who just can’t say no.
They act, interact, commiserate, intercede and go headlong into the breach of their crises, ultimately setting up a suspenseful scenario: Who among the group will conquer the curse? A couple of subplots add breadth and texture to the doings while also apprising how family and friends are affected by loved ones battling sexual addiction.
Yipes, it’s complicated, and often disheartening. But, perhaps while just slightly pie in the sky and formulaic, there is an encouraging conviviality engendered by these damaged comrades who find themselves in the same foxhole. Despite some sordid disclosures, by illustrating how they extend their generosity to each other, even when they can hardly help themselves, makes “Thanks for Sharing” an informative and bighearted little film.
“Thanks for Sharing,” rated R, is a Lionsgate release directed by Stuart Blumberg and stars Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and Gwyneth Paltrow. Running time: 112 minutes