EIFF REVIEW: Thanks for Sharing a sober look at sex ‘addiction’

Thanks for Sharing GigCity EdmontonIf God allowed us to pick our addiction, who wouldn’t pick sex? No matter how many times you do it, you’re probably not going to get cirrhosis of the liver, bad skin, rotten teeth or lung cancer, provided you take the appropriate precautions. All you get out of it is a nice happy little rush of endorphins. It seems like a can’t-lose situation, doesn’t it?

“Thanks For Sharing,” playing Tuesday, Oct. 1 at the Edmonton International Film Festival, delves into the lives of three professional, intelligent, seemingly normal men – Mike (Tim Robbins), Adam (Mark Ruffalo) and Neil (Josh Gad) – who think addiction to sex is a bad thing. They all subscribe in varying degrees to the 12 step ideology of having lost control of their lives and harmed themselves and others due to their sexual behavior.

Tim Robbins and Joely Richardson

Tim Robbins and Joely Richardson

For Neil, it’s frottage – rubbing against other people without their consent – which has gotten him in trouble with the law and fired from his job. Adam sabotages his intimate relationships due to deep seated insecurities and an unrelenting, seemingly compulsive manwhorishness. They never really say what the deal with Mike is, other than he is also an alcoholic and the most senior of the group. He spends the majority of his time dispensing cheap wisdom via cutesy aphorisms you could find in any dollar store self-help tome. While willing to help out his fellow addict bros at a moment’s notice, he won’t extend an empathic hand as his own son Danny (Patrick Fugit) struggles to clean up his own life. Fugit turns in arguably the most convincing performance of the movie, even amongst heavyweights like Robbins and Ruffalo, and his character is one of the few in the movie capable of being honest with himself as well as with those around him.

So, wherein lies the rub for these guys? For Neil, Adam, and Mike, it’s in their pants. Or is it in their heads? In perhaps the most memorable line of the film, Mike compares his problem to “having a crack pipe attached to your body.”

Must “sexual addiction” be painted in such a negative light? What about free will and our ability to make rational choices? Can you exhibit the physiological symptoms of an addiction while engaging in a biological drive as fundamental to our existence as eating or breathing? The American Psychiatric Association answers an emphatic “NO” to that question, as it pulled sex and food addiction out of the Diagnostic Statistic Manual for Psychiatric Disorders (DSM – V) in late 2012. Compulsive maybe, but not an addiction, say the experts.

The thematic intent of this movie is not to decide whether sexual addiction is real – the filmmakers have already concluded that it is – but to suggest that whatever our problems, no matter how seriously they affect us, we are not alone, and others will be there to help us when we need it.

Pink at ease on the big screen

Pink at ease on the big screen

This film considers the emotional pain experienced by the characters as enough evidence to warrant belief in the existence of sexual addiction. Ruffalo, who does a spectacular job in this film, is able to walk the very precarious line between his character’s strict letter of the law adherence to 12 step group ideals and trying to live a normal life. Adam struggles here, too, and despite his recently celebrated fifth year of not screwing around with anyone, he seems unsure of his ability to maintain a newly blossoming relationship with seemingly normal Phoebe, a kind, intelligent, funny, and – by her own definition – highly sexual woman, played effortlessly by Gwyneth Paltrow.

Josh Gad provides a Jonah Hill-like comic brushstroke to the heavy subject matter, as he navigates unemployed life, many times in the company of Dede, his female friend and fellow sex addict – there doesn’t seem to be too many women in this program for some reason – played by Alecia Moore, otherwise known as the pop star Pink. As Dede, the singer seems perfectly at ease in the world of acting, and no doubt further movie offers will be coming her way.

As Phoebe discovers Adam’s condition, he awkwardly comes clean, and Ruffalo emotes his character’s pathos beautifully, giving his skeletons of shame, fear and desperation a bit of an airing. Will Adam screw it up, or make better choices? Will Phoebe ditch Adam because of his problem, or act more empathically towards him? What is it about this man that he is so neurotic about sex? The reasons for his behavior are about so much more than this story ever touches. Beyond sex, Thanks for Sharing is a life-affirming and judgement-free film that poses questions about the purposes of relationships and the nature of communication.