This review was originally published on September 12, 2012 as part of Film.com's coverage of the *2012* Toronto International Film Festival.
Can sex addiction be hilarious? There's the crux of the issue for "Thanks for Sharing," the doomed outcome of the effort wrapped in this troubling query. As it turns out, the definitive answer is "Nah," leading to serious structural problems for the film. It's a lot like the movie "Shame," only if you tried out McQueen's expert-level film in a romcom format, pop songs firmly embedded. Which is a lot like saying, "She'd be a beautiful giraffe, if only she wasn't actually a stapler." You're never going to wish that stapler tall enough, are ya?
The highly lovable Mark Ruffalo is a gent named Adam, and as the film opens, he's attending a 12-step program for sex addiction. As you can imagine, he tends to hulk out (sorry) over the idea of women in general, which is precisely why he finds himself in a support group, ably mentored by his sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins). These are the best moments of the film by a rather large margin, when Adam and the group are talking honestly about their crippling relationship with sexual dysfunction. These scenes are played straight, not for laughs, and they connect early and often. A third generation of sex addict is added to the mix in the form of Neil (Josh Gad), who Adam sponsors (which I think makes him Mike's grand-sponsee). These three fellows form the entire narrative component; Mike is a mentor in the community, Adam has a solid five years of sobriety under his belt (sorry again) and Neil is struggling to even make it a day without acting out in a manner that's harmful to his future prospects.
Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) enters the story as a potential love interest for Adam. Ruffalo and Paltrow do sell the relationship in a functional manner, but one of the central problems is their union begins with a lie of omission. This is screenwriter trick #42, and it's often used to infuse a manufactured tension into all future interactions. Previously, writer Stuart Blumberg has pulled off natural drama in "The Kids are All Right" and "The Girl Next Door," both of which were executed on a far higher level. Perhaps it was because "Thanks for Sharing" is Blumberg's directorial debut, or maybe there wasn't much more to say that happened outside of the group therapy sessions; whatever the case, this movie has largish momentum problems paired with characters you end up sort of disliking by the end. The other two recovering addicts, each with their own crosses to bear, enter the picture when we're not with Adam and his burgeoning relationship. To fill out the plot, Mike has a son (Patrick Fugit) he doesn't know how to communicate with, while Neil is the most raw of the addicts, constantly needing and abusing while he's trying to get better.
Which brings us nicely to Alecia "Pink" Moore, who, based on her work here, really needs to tackle more acting roles. She's very solid as DeDe, a fellow meeting-goer who is doing her damnedest to figure out her disease. The character of DeDe could have gone disastrous on a number of fronts, but Blumberg and Pink manage to deliver a female character that's far stronger than any of the main male characters. Kudos must be given to both for this aspect of the film, even though it holds the rest of the plot-lines up to derision by stark comparison.
Sadly, "Thanks for Sharing" can't quite find its footing as either a drama or a comedy, and near the end it's actively sliding off the rails. Some of the problem is a misplaced narrative arc, some of it involves huge tonal issues, but a healthy portion or two revolves around "Thanks for Sharing" not knowing precisely what it is trying to say. Which, given it's a film all about communication, is a pretty debilitating flaw to trot out as entertainment.
SCORE: 3.5 / 10