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Edelstein on Thanks for Sharing: Absorbing, Though Stuck in a ‘Disease of the Month’ Template

A movie about people grappling earnestly with sex addiction is bound to inspire its share of snorts — my subjective response to the hero’s problem of too many willing beautiful women is “Cry me a river” — but Stuart Blumberg’s Thanks for Sharing certainly makes the case that any addiction will turn your life inside out and hurt others in the bargain. Mark Ruffalo plays a man who hasn’t even dated a woman in five years. He commiserates with his sponsor (Tim Robbins) while they walk past posters of half-naked people and women in micro-minidresses. He’s also not allowed to masturbate. Just when you’re thinking five years seems harsh for a good-looking guy in his prime, he meets Gwyneth Paltrow at an insect-eating party (you can’t make this stuff up — no wait, someone did) and there’s magic. The only catch is that she won’t date ex-addicts.

The heart of Thanks for Sharing is, as its title implies, “the rooms” and the surrogate family that forms around them, among its members The Book of Mormon’s Josh Gad as a lovable, overmothered doctor who rubs his crotch against women in the subway and surreptitiously slides a video camera under his boss’s skirt. (Director Blumberg doesn’t linger on the feelings of the women who’ve been violated — poor, sweet, schlubby Gad is the focus.) Alecia “Pink” Moore is the hairdresser who can’t relate to men except through sex. Some of the movie’s best moments are subtle, like the microsecond between Robbins glancing up at a waitress in a low-cut top and pulling his gaze away. Robbins doesn’t go for the easy laugh — he’s too busy, as the character, removing the temptation.

The movie is intelligent and absorbing, though addiction films are more alike than unalike: They’re filled with addicts exhorting other addicts to resist and regular invocations of the traditional “disease” model. It’s a drama-killer when characters in movies talk about their “disease”: It transforms them from individuals with unique rhythms and quirks into standardized case studies. Blumberg does have a jolting wild card up his sleeve: an eager former conquest of Ruffalo’s (Emily Meade) whom he phones at low ebb and who turns out to be seriously disturbed. Ruffalo begins by playing her S&M game before it dawns on him that what’s happening is too fucked up even for him.

I liked Meade and the rest of the cast. As Gad’s mother, Carol Kane is amusing when he tells her he’s too busy to talk and she says, “Like I was too busy to give birth to you 28 years ago.” Gwyneth and Mark have the Look when they meet over the insect shish-kebab table, so much so that it’s too bad they have to have — on cue — the big scene where she discovers his sobriety coin and they have The Talk. I have no doubt that this can be a valuable discussion in life, but Thanks for Sharing is never quite crazy or funny enough to transcend its “disease-of-month” template. The title turns out to not be ironic — a mixed blessing.

Photo: Roadside Attractions