Of the many funny things in “Thanks for Sharing,” one of the funniest for those who have followed Stuart Blumberg’s work as a writer on such as Edward Norton’s “Keeping the Faith,” “The Girl Next Door” and “The Kids Are Alright” is that some of his directorial debut dramedy’s best scenes are handled without any dialogue. A swooning getting-to-know-you session between Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow, a wordless portrait of an evening where Josh Gad struggles with his sobriety and eventually trades one vice for another, and the steely-eyed squint Tim Robbins can be counted on for comic relief are flourishes that one might not expect from someone who has such an ear for sharp dialogue and a gift for picking apart the complexities of subjects usually left undiscussed in public with uncommon grace.
It is somewhat less surprising then that “Thanks for Sharing” tackles sex addiction and while it shares a New York setting with the similarly-themed “Shame,” it is a world away from the shadowy world inhabited by Michael Fassbender. Although the burden remains heavy on each of its characters, the mood is considerably lighter, with Ruffalo, Robbins and Gad featured as a trio of nymphomanics who are working their way through Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings.
Five years sober, Ruffalo’s Adam is the barometer of the group, which has Robbins’ Mike as its rock-solid discussion leader and Gad’s Neil as the newbie who wouldn’t attend if he weren’t compelled by a court order at its opposite ends of the spectrum. Blumberg, with co-writer Matt Winston, ease us in with stories of past exploits and intriguing group discussions, particularly when a new member (a surprisingly affecting Alecia “Pink” Moore, of all people) shows up. But the story gets rolling when Adam meets Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), a breast cancer survivor who may become Adam’s first serious relationship in years, and Mike’s son (Patrick Fugit), an addict in his own right, reappears to the surprise of his parents.
Neil’s gradual rehabilitation, which is not without its pratfalls, particularly with the physical comedian Gad onboard, becomes the pacekeeper for the film. But Blumberg’s other storylines are where its beating heart lies, setting up two clever premises with the romance that springs between Adam and Phoebe where Adam can’t get too affectionate for fear of getting back to his old habits and a family drama in which Mike cares more for the men in his recovery group than his own flesh and blood.
Unfortunately, the film is so credibly conceived that it ultimately disappoints when the film moves towards its climax. Though it may adhere to the real-life odds of a relapse, the inevitable fall off the wagon that some of the film’s characters experience proves incongruous to what’s come before, operating with the type of dim lighting and aching orchestral score that might accompany Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner when he becomes the Hulk. Even setting aside the wild, melodramatic turns that the film sets in motion in its final third, the tonal shift is directly at odds with the great lengths Blumberg goes to beforehand to never sit in judgment of its subjects.
Still, “Thanks for Sharing” builds up too much goodwill in first two-thirds to dismiss it entirely, with Paltrow and Robbins in particular taking advantage of the opportunity to work on something this charming and nuanced for the first time in a long while. Perhaps it’s fitting that the good times can’t last forever in “Thanks for Sharing,” given its subject matter, but while they’re good, Blumberg shows the promise of being great.
“Thanks for Sharing” opens in wide release on September 20th.