Sex addiction appears to be Hollywood's newest emerging hot topic, already explored in Steve McQueen's searing tale of self-destruction "Shame" and given a much lighter treatment in Joseph Gordon-Levitt's upcoming romantic comedy "Jon Don."
"Thanks for Sharing," the auspicious directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriter Stuart "The Kids are Alright" Blumberg, falls somewhere between those two opposites.
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"Thanks for Sharing"★ ★ ★
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Patrick Fugit, Alecia Moore
Directed by: Stuart Blumberg
Other: A Roadside Attractions release. Rated R for language, sexual situations, nudity. 112 minutes
A soap-operatic symphony of sincere drama and tension-releasing humor, "Thanks for Sharing" features a spot-on leading performance by Marvel's erstwhile Incredible Hulk Mark Ruffalo as Adam, a sex addict clocking five years of "sobriety" at his regular meeting of fellow sex addicts.
His sagely sponsor Mike (the always reliable Tim Robbins), a beloved fixture in the group, presses Adam to get back into the dating game. As we find out, sexual contact in a serious relationship is allowed. All other sexual activities? Forbidden.
Adam appears to be a really sweet guy, affable and reasonable, and through him we gain some insights into how sex addiction destroys relationships and lives, and how it, like alcoholism, can be a hard disease to conquer. It's not just an excuse guys use to justify chronic infidelity.
So when Adam meets Phoebe, a fitness nut and cancer survivor played by Gwyneth Paltrow, we sympathize with his decision to not tell her about his addiction, at least not at first, not after she confesses she dated an addict and will never do that again.
Predictably, Phoebe discovers his secret, forcing Adam to jump through the usual hoops to rebuild destroyed trust.
This part of the story would have worked far better had Phoebe been Adam's understanding dream girl. Instead, Phoebe comes across as something of a mismatch, a self-avowed "sexual person" who strips down to Victoria's Secret fetish black underwear and knows how to perform a mean lap-dance.
With a breakup imminent, can Adam's fall from abstinence grace be far behind?
Meanwhile, the sensitive screenplay by Blumberg and Matt Winston serves up some heavy-duty father-son conflict. Mike's horrific treatment of his young son back in his addiction days has left scars on Danny (Patrick Fugit), an ex-junkie returned home to find some closure.
But prideful Dad refuses to take responsibility. Not even Joely Richardson's quietly supportive mom can melt the polar ice between them.
To balance out all his dark angst, Blumberg enlists comic actor Josh Gad to pump out the laughs as Neil, a John Belushi-esque sex-addicted ER staffer whose compulsion to slip video cameras under women's skirts gets him fired.
He winds up in the sobriety group attended by Mike and Adam, along with a punky new recruit named Dede (Alecia Moore, alias pop star Pink) who openly confesses she can only relate to men through sex.
Moore nicely acquits herself as an angry, tough and confused sex addict. Her comically blossoming relationship with Neil has the feel of an off-kilter rom-com plotted for maximum audience appeal.
She and Gad engage in such a prickly, sexually charged friendship, you almost wish they were the stars of "Thanks for Sharing."
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