“Thanks for Sharing” is what Variety might call a “twelve-stepper” — an engagingly didactic drama about addiction and recovery. The subject in question is sex addiction, and the producers hope to minimize your queasiness with that tart title, a strong cast, and a script that keeps you involved with the characters, even as they run a predictable route of struggle and qualified triumph. See Steve McQueen’s “Shame” (2011) if you want a sense of how destructive this sickness can be to the soul. See “Thanks for Sharing” if you want to know what people can do about it.
The protagonists are placed carefully along the demographic grid. Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is a successful New York businessman who, when the film opens, has gone two years without a relapse; he moves through the streets of midtown Manhattan like a monk through a whorehouse. (Right off the bat, the script by Matt Winston and director Stuart Blumberg is smart about the constant visual temptations of a society hooked on sex.) Adam’s support-group sponsor, a Brooklyn contractor named Mike (Tim Robbins), is a wise old Yoda of recovery who must have bought his Park Slope brownstone back in the ’70s, before the bankers moved in. The resistant newbie is Neil (Josh Gad), a young doctor given to groping women on the subway; he has an impressive porn collection he’s in denial about and a court-ordered mandate to show up for group.
The movie splits its time between these three, giving them separate story lines that occasionally cross over when one of them requires a boost. The best scenes involve Neil and his growing realization that he needs help and badly; his friendship with fellow addict Dede (Alecia Moore, better known as the singer Pink and extra-likable here in a post-Cyndi Lauper vein) strengthens the both of them in affecting ways. In addition, Neil has a nightmare Jewish mama, played hilariously by Carol Kane, who’s always going on about schmutz on his tuchis.
Meanwhile, Mike — the perfect sponsor — has to face his own judgmental demons when his son (Patrick Fugit), a former druggie now clean, returns home and tries to make things right with his father and mother (an almost unrecognizable Joely Richardson). “Thanks for Sharing” makes effective use of both Robbins’s sensitivity and his bulldog jaw, and, intriguingly, it gets at the self-satisfactions that can blind a twelve-step lifer to those who won’t get with the program — especially when they’re actual family, as opposed to group-family.
The main story line concerns Adam and his burgeoning romance with Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), a breast cancer survivor and type-A Mistress of the Universe. Should he tell her of his addiction? Can he enjoy sex when it isn’t anonymous? How do you take intimacy out of your head and apply it to an actual person? All valid questions undone by the fact that Phoebe, in Paltrow’s playing of her, is a perfect pill. (The script gives the character her own problems in the form of minor OCD, but with this actress it somehow feels redundant.)
“Thanks for Sharing” is rarely surprising but mostly involving. You care for the characters (except, um, Phoebe) and hope to see them cope with their illness and make it to the end of each day. The details — Adam having the TV removed from his hotel room during business trips — seem right. Arguably the movie could have been tougher in its depiction of what these people are struggling with — it’s a soft R at best — but, again, see “Shame” for that. This movie’s more concerned with dramatizing recovery for the converted, not the perverted.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.