Transitions, by Rita Cannon
Thanks For Sharing is a mainstream, star-studded, mostly upbeat ensemble dramedy about sex addiction. So it’s perhaps not a huge surprise that it’s biggest problems have to do with setting and maintaining the right tone, and shifting gears from light to dark and back again. Most of the time, writer and director Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are All Right,The Girl Next Door) accomplishes this task pretty nimbly. He makes his protagonists human and sympathetic, but doesn’t whitewash the damage their behaviors have caused. He finds the humor in their struggles, but doesn’t trivialize them. It isn’t until the third act that things start to go off the rails, and the film’s two competing impulses – doing justice to the continual struggle of recovery versus giving the audience an easily digestible happy ending – finally clash in a way that Blumberg can’t quite make work.
When we first meet Adam (Mark Ruffalo), he’s already been sober for five years. For Adam, sobriety means not having sex outside of a committed relationship and, apparently, not masturbating. He’s managed to get his life back together, but keeping it that way gets more difficult when he meets Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), the first woman he’s wanted to date since getting sober. We’re also introduced to Adam’s sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins), fifteen year sobers from alcohol as well as sex addiction, who struggles to reconnect with his estranged son (Patrick Fugit), another recovering addict who rejects his dad’s faith in the twelve steps and chooses to “white knuckle it” instead. The newest member of the group is Neil (Josh Gad), a young doctor who is court ordered to join the program after molesting a woman on the subway. Adam tries to be Neil’s sponsor, but Neil resists the idea that he has a problem – at least until he befriends fellow addict Dede (Pink, credited here with her real name, Alecia Moore), who gets through to him with the magic of platonic friendship.
I hate to get all lefty social justice warrior right out of the gate, but I find it disappointing that a movie about addiction – an issue that cuts across demographic lines like almost nothing else does – chooses to have three upper-middle-class white men as its protagonists. Maybe the topic was considered risky enough on its own that they felt they had to make its presentation as conventional as possible? The difficulty these men experience battling their demons comes across pretty effectively (Mike likens it to kicking a crack addiction with the pipe attached to your body), but it’s still only the struggles of these men, to the exclusion of all others, which leads the movie to make some weird, possibly unintentional implications. When Adam, Mike or Neil walk down the street, we invariably see shots from their point of view, leering (or trying not to leer) at women walking past them in form-fitting clothing. These shots increase in frequency when the men are having a rough day, leaving the unfortunate impression that women’s bodies are a problem that afflict men. I’m sure this sometimes feels true for straight male sex addicts, and it would have been a fine thing to acknowledge if it had been placed alongside a depiction of what the same struggle might feel like for someone like Dede. But it isn’t. Dede is the only female sex addict in the film, and what little we get of her backstory is fascinating (though very dark, which is maybe part of the reason it isn’t explored more fully), but her purpose as a character is mostly to help Neil become a better person. Their friendship is funny and sweet, but it could have been even richer if we understood more about Dede’s problems.
This same issue reemerges in the climax of Adam’s storyline. When Phoebe is less than understanding about some of Adam’s issues (she doesn’t seem to get why insisting on stripper role play on like the third date might make him uncomfortable), they have a falling out that sends him off the deep end and into the arms of Becky (Emily Meade), a young woman from his past. The scenes they share are intensely disturbing and raise a lot of icky questions that the film never answers. Becky is very young-looking (I’d say twenty-two at the oldest), and we know Adam has been sober for five years. Does this mean he fooled around with a high school girl? The scene also has some extremely heavy incest/molestation overtones, and culminates in Becky having a total meltdown and threatening to harm herself. She’s obviously every bit as troubled as Adam (probably more so), and yet she’s presented less as a person than as a thing that happens to Adam.
After this troubling trip into the depths of relapse, Blumberg then hurriedly pulls all his characters back together for a perfunctory happy ending, the dark events of the previous twenty minutes swept aside before their fallout can be realistically assessed. There’s nothing wrong with shifting between comedy and drama, even with such serious subject matter, but as we near the end of Thanks For Sharing, the shifting gets less graceful and becomes more of a lurch.