Addiction movies inevitably go one of two ways: toward despair and doom, or heading for cautious triumph. Throw a love story on top, and it's the same thing: self-destruction and betrayal, or wary hope - a rosy future clouded by the possibility of relapse, defeat.
Thanks for Sharing is an addiction movie - a romantic-comedy addiction movie, if such a thing can be. Like last year's Shame and next week's Don Jon, it's about a guy, and his fellow 12-steppers, who can't get enough sex. But Adam (Mark Ruffalo), an environmental consultant with a sleek New York apartment and a surfeit of self-discipline, has been "sober" for five years now: Even in a world impossibly teeming with leggy, lovely women hawking makeup and lingerie and sashaying down the street (cue the montage of billboards, TV ads, and sidewalk sashaying), Adam has managed to steer clear of the porn sites, the singles bars. He goes to the meetings. He prays.
He has been living like a monk, his sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins), tells him, and maybe it's time to try out a "normal," monogamous relationship.
Enter Phoebe, a snappy, sophisticated New Yorker, played by the snappy, sophisticated Gwyneth Paltrow. Phoebe runs, swims, and bikes. She eats dainty portions of organic foodstuffs. She has a gift for witty repartee. (Thanks, writer/director Stuart Blumberg.) The pair meet at a party, skewering cricket kebabs, and take it from there. Their courtship is tentative and sweet and candid, at least on Phoebe's part. "I promised myself that I'd never date an addict again," she says ruefully, recounting her travails with an ex, an alcoholic.
Uh-oh. Adam misses more than one opportunity to fess up. Suspense hangs in the air, waiting for the second act before Adam's deception drops like a bomb.
Intersecting with the Adam and Phoebe drama are several story lines: There is Mike, who has an inspirational catchphrase for any situation, any sponsee, and whose relationship with his wife (a sad-eyed and serene Joely Richardson) is the picture of domestic tranquillity - until their grown son, Danny (an intense Patrick Fugit), himself an addict, enters the picture. And then there's Neil (Josh Gad), an ER doctor in total denial about his addiction. He gropes women in subway cars. He shoots up - up skirts, that is, with a hidden camera. His apartment is a warehouse of X-rated DVDs and skin mags. He's a sorry case, and then he connects with Dede (Pink), who acknowledges at a meeting that the only way she knows how to relate to men is with sex.
Will Neil and Dede be able to truly help each other? Or are they enablers on a collision course? Gad and Pink are good together, providing quasi-comic relief and a bit of desperate poignancy, too.
Thanks for Sharing is an odd film: The sex-addict business is treated with an uncommon level of detail and honesty. It's kind of a bummer, in fact, tainting Blumberg's breezier, goofier rom-com aspirations. Ultimately, it's the romance that feels forced and phony, not the group meetings, the confessions, the anguished moments alone.
Thanks for Sharing **1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Stuart Blumberg. With Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow,
Tim Robbins, Joely Richardson,
Josh Gad, and Pink. Distributed
by Roadside Attractions.
Running time: 1 hour, 52 mins.
Parent's guide: R (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @Steven_Rea. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.inquirer.com/onmovies.