Thanks for sharing

THANKS FOR SHARING. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo, Pink, Joely Richardson, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad, Patrick Fugit, Carol Kane. Directed by Stuart Blumberg. 110 minutes. Rated MA 15+ (strong sex scene and coarse language).

A film from Hollywood about self-control? Not likely. About self-control and sex? Even less likely. But, here it is, Thanks for Sharing. And a good film too. About sex addiction.

2011 saw Michael Fassbinder locked into sexual addiction in the deadly serious Shameless. Thanks for sharing alerts audiences to AA and 12-step programs. The central characters here are in such a program for sexual addiction.

Director and co-writer, Stuart Blomberg, takes a less deadly approach than Shameless. It has a lot of humour in it and its characters display greater humanity. It is well-written, taking us into the minds and feelings of its characters which leads to some sympathy, if not empathy, and some insight about the experience of sexual addiction. It takes us into meetings with the self-consciousness, the desperation, the listening, the support. It also shows us the demands made on sponsors: phone calls at low points, being direct with each other, and the strains when the sponsor is also an addict.

There are three central characters, very well played. The main focus is Adam, a business executive who appears competent and charming but has been wracked by past excessive behaviour and the constant temptations. He shows how self-control can be maintained but how fragile this can be. It is interesting to note that he and the others use the word ‘sober’ to describe how long they have been fall-free. Adam is played by Mark Ruffalo, sometimes intense, at other times mastering his situation. Some redemption appears in the form of Phoebe. Both are attracted to each other, enjoy each other’s company. She reveals she has had breast cancer. He cannot reveal the truth. Much of the drama of the film comes from his avoiding the situation and how each confronts the situation when it is revealed. Phoebe is played by Gwynneth Paltrow in a welcome return to the screen.

Adam’s sponsor, Mike, is played by Tim Robbins, with 15 years sobriety. A builder, he gives job opportunities to addicts to build up confidence but has to take responsibility when they crash. Joely Richardson plays his long-suffering wife. Particularly telling is the sub-plot with Mike’s son (a good performance by Patrick Fugit), alienated, some time in prison, returning to reconcile but falling foul of Mike’s dominance despite efforts to bond with his son. The scene where the son asks for an apology from his father for the treatment he received while Mike was so drunk is quite powerful, a reminder of an alcoholic parents responsibility for the damage to a child.

The third character is a young doctor, Neil (Josh Gad, Steve Wozniak in Jobs). His story begins somewhat farcically, being a boorish, overweight hitter on women. Mike doesn’t like him. Adam has difficulty in being his sponsor. He has the disadvantage of an overbearing Jewish mother (Carol Kane). However, his struggles and falls, his attempts to find self-control become more interesting, especially when he interacts with another addict, Dede (Alecia Moore/Pink), puts himself out to come to her help and she enables him to be better.

Most people know of sexual addiction from headlines where celebrities have gone into rehab. Thanks for sharing is an opportunity to get to know people and their addictions through their lives rather than through theory. These are middle-class people, to that extent ordinary. The tough struggle (illustrated more graphically towards the end of the film than earlier) dramatizes for outsiders to addiction what the experience, illness, can be like.

All bows are not neatly tied at the end, but the perspective is definitely one of help for others – and some hope.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Out October 3, 2013.

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