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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: Thanks for Sharing

The Perfect Film For the Sex Addict in Your Life

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: September 20, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director: Stuart Blumberg
Writers: Stuart Blumberg, Matt Winston
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad, 
Alecia "Pink" Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow, 
Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, Carol Kane

When I see a movie that accomplishes the rare triple threat of being beautifully acted, immaculately written, and filled with interesting characters, I want to immediately rush out and tell everyone about it. Discovering a film as fascinating as "Thanks for Sharing" genuinely excites me.

It tells the story of a group of sex addicts. Like alcoholics, they too are in a twelve-step program. The only difference is – since I know you're all wondering – they don't have to completely abstain from their "drug" of choice. There are ground rules, though: no televisions or computers, no self-pleasure, and no sex outside of a committed relationship. One of the men, Adam (Mark Ruffalo), has been "sober" for five years. To ward off temptation, he resorts to using an old-fashioned flip-top phone without a screen and even asks for the TV to be carted away from his hotel room whenever he's away on business.

But when you're a sex addict, merely walking down the street provides a beautiful bevy of almost irresistible temptations. The leader of the program, Mike (an older, more grizzled Tim Robbins), explains that "it's like trying to quit crack while the pipe is attached to your body."

Adam and Mike are both intensely disciplined. You get the sense that the program itself may be the "higher power" they pray to, because they both approach it like a religion. But just as Job was in the Bible, even the most faithful of servants are eventually tested.

Their polar opposite is Neil (Josh Gad), a hard-working young doctor who immature in every other aspect of his life – including his addiction. For him, it goes far beyond the traditional dietary staples of watching porn and hiring hookers. Despite that, he meets a kindred spirit at one of the meetings, Dede (Alecia "Pink" Moore), who is spiraling out of control in her own way.

There are also two women on the outside looking in: Mike's long-suffering wife, Katie (Joely Richardson), and Adam's "perfect" new girlfriend – his first in five years – Phoebe (Gwyeth Paltrow). If being a recovering addict wasn't stressful enough, Mike and Katie have a surprise visitor show up on their doorstep: their son, Danny (Patrick Fugit, "Almost Famous"), a drug addict who claims he's now clean. Unlike his dad, he "white knuckled" it – meaning he gave up his addictions on his own without the help of a twelve-step program. That obviously puts Danny at odds with his father, who leads such a group. The hardened Mike is not ready to forgive or forget – or believe.

Addiction is rarely a straight line: there are sweet victories, but there are also costly mistakes and heartbreaking setbacks. One wrong move is all it takes for the reset button to be clicked – if it can be at all. Addicts can never stop thinking about their internal demons. Obsession drives both good and bad choices.

In giving us a glimpse of that world, "Thanks for Sharing" manages to be both funny and gut-wrenching. That's because it contains fully-realized characters who encompass the entire human spectrum of emotions, a great story that pulls the audience in every direction, superb actors who honor this arduous journey, and some of the best writing and dialogue I've had the pleasure of listening to in a film all year. I was hoping against hope that Stuart Blumberg (who previously wrote "The Kids Are All Right") and Matt Winston (making his screenwriting debut) would get recognized for their fantastic script with a deserved Oscar nomination, but alas, it was not to be.

The Academy may have overlooked this hidden gem, but you definitely shouldn't.

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