Movies about addiction often suffer from being relentlessly bleak or overly romanticized.
"Thanks for Sharing" nearly gets it right by taking a very human approach to the topic of sex addiction that doesn't shirk away from its harsh, ugly reality.
And be warned: The well-acted drama is not the romantic comedy the trailer unwisely suggests. However, it does benefit from an outstanding cast -- Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad and Alecia Moore (the singer Pink) -- and is filled with refreshing insight and a mature acceptance of the frailty and resiliency of the human condition. Best of all, it consistently respects its well-drawn characters and takes a compassionate view of them, rather than turning them into predictable puppets.
Now for the bad stuff. "Sharing" has a lot of storylines to thread together. It also suffers from a startling change of pace near the finale that, while necessary, feels overly strained.
Aside from that, "Sharing" is often graceful as it invites us into the interconnected stories of four New York sex addicts, all of whom are in various stages of identity and recovery.
Thanks to precise writing and acting, we develop a strong affinity for these interesting people. And that is the greatest asset of director Stuart Blumberg's applause-worthy debut: its ability to embrace the flaws in all of us.
Blumberg, who received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the sly "The Kids Are All Right," once again gives us great dialogue and makes us care about the characters, a refreshing departure from the other well-made, but much more brutal sex-addiction bummer "Shame," the 2011 film with Michael Fassbender.
Given Blumberg's relatable, hopeful tone and Ruffalo's disarming portrayal, we can't help but root for the lead character, Adam. He's a hard worker who is five years clean and embarking on a relationship with a very sexual goddess named Phoebe (Paltrow, perfectly cast). Early on, Phoebe asks Adam directly if he's an alcoholic, since she dealt with a previous bad relationship. Smitten and realizing this good thing going could suddenly go off the rails, he says no. The indirect lie haunts them both, and later fuels a fight that's an emotional powder-keg, setting off an explosion of raw emotions.
When in crisis mode, Adam leans on his sponsor, Mike (Robbins, who nails every scene), a man who can dispense sage advice but is too rigid when it comes to his son Danny (Patrick Fugit), who has battled his own addiction. Danny's return home leads to confrontations, while his mom, Katie (Joely Richardson), hopes to keep the peace.
Providing the most humor is scene-stealer Gad (Broadway's "The Book of Mormon") as Neil, an ER doctor who has to hit the point of no return before he takes the court-mandated support group seriously. He befriends Dede (Pink, in a very promising acting debut), a magnet for bad boyfriends.
That's lot of characters to keep track of. While Blumberg's ambition is to be admired, his story swings a little out of control during its crescendo-fueled finale.
But I can forgive "Sharing" for that digression. A movie about disease and addiction should be messy and unruly. And while it happens so quickly and piles on a lot of drama, it's essential for audiences to venture right into that horrible center.
"Thanks for Sharing" has issues to deal with and slips back into self-destructive behavior in keeping with the film's main themes: None of us is perfect, and once you realize that and accept and help those around you, those bonds can make a today and then a tomorrow look a little more promising.
Rating: R (for language and some strong sexual content)
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow and Josh Gad
Director: Stuart Blumberg
Running time: 1 hour,