Fifty-plus years after THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, you would be forgiven for thinking that a contemporary film on a similar topic would have something new, or trenchant, or revelatory, or even different to say about addiction. Alas, THANKS FOR SHARING is the one that demands the forgiveness. This is a pasteurized, cliché-ridden piece of banality that insults the audiences intelligence while all but trivializing the very real issues it purports to explore.
The addiction is primarily sex, not alcohol, which allows the filmmakers to titillate the audience with salacious details while at the same time casting a baleful eye upon them. Its an old trick, used to best effect, perhaps, by Cecil B. DeMille in his erotically charged, but morally outraged biblical spectacles. While I dont think that writer/director Stuart Blumberg is quite as cynical as Mr. DeMille could be, I do think that he has reduced the genuinely provocative, non-sexual issues that he wants to explore to a series of predictable tropes that serve no one well.
He is, however, blessed with a strong cast, starting with Mark Ruffalo as Adam, a recovering sex addict, five-years sober (no auto-eroticism, no television, no laptop, no sex outside of a committed relationship). Once again he proves himself an actor who is capable of finding the emotional truth of his character and building on it with great skill and intelligence. It is his misfortune, and ours, that he is cast opposite Gwyneth Paltrow as Phoebe, his first serious relationship since seeking help. She is sunny and natural and yet not quite as complex as thin slice of melba toast. Her character is also one of many missed opportunities to explore seemingly non-destructive addictions, such as exercise and a strictly health diet (a dig at Ms Paltrows re-invention as a lifestyle guru?). Instead she is the cheapest of expository devices, there strictly to allow Adam to suffer through a contrived series of relationship issues that come out of nowhere. Similarly contrived, but well-acted for the most part, is the relationship between Adams sponsor at his 12-step program, Mike (Tim Robbins) and his estranged son (Patrick Fugit), who suddenly reappears at his parents home, to Mikes suspicion about his having beaten his drug and alcohol addictions, and the delight of his mother (Joely Richardson), whose sole purpose, like Paltrows, is to provide opportunities for the exposition necessary to track the poisonous relationship that drove father and son apart. Fugit, who made such a promising start in ALMOST FAMOUS, is, like Robbins, better than the material, walking a finely drawn ambiguous line about where his character is in the recovery process. Its badly undercut, though, by the hopelessly and hilariously hackneyed ploy of having a father who is the perfect sponsor for the rest of the world, but unable to reach out to his own flesh-and-blood.
The most interesting case is that of Neil (Josh Gad), a doctor under court order to seek help for a series of frottages (aggressive and uninvited rubbing on another) on New York subways. Neil has not yet hit bottom, and is in denial, but whats unique is that Neil doesnt have actual sex with others, but exhibits behavior that is illegal. Gad is a the one revelatory thing going in THANK YOU FOR SHARING. Moving beyond his genius as a merry prankster of the seriously oblivious type, he is a nimble comedian, but one with a well of lonely desperation. His relationship with Dede (Pink, another revelation), as the addict out to discover what its like to be just friends with the opposite sex, is fresh, sweet, and genuinely moving. They are the pair the film should have focused on, and there should have been more of the divine Carol Kane. First because she is, in fact, the divine Carol Kane. Second, because her turn as Neils ferociously, smothering, and nudgy Jewish mother had the potential to explain what made Neil the way he is.
A thoughtful, challenging piece on the nature of addiction and the attraction of self-destructive behavior would have been welcome. This is not.