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‘Thanks for Sharing’ makes you care about sex addicts

‘THANKS FOR SHARING’ ★★★

Adam Mark Ruffalo

Mike Tim Robbins

Phoebe Gwyneth Paltrow

Neil Josh Gad

Katie Joely Richardson

Dede Alecia Moore

Roadside Attractions presents a film directed by Stuart Blumberg and written by Blumberg and Matt Winston. Running time: 112 minutes. Rated R (for language and some strong sexual content). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: October 21, 2013 6:05AM



When I hear of an actor or a disgraced politician checking himself into rehab because he’s a “sex addict,” I’ll admit my first thought is the guy’s a serial cheater who got caught and this is the best way to rehabilitate his image.

Is sexual addiction a real thing, or a convenient excuse for the wealthy and the famous? “Thanks for Sharing” makes a convincing case some people can be as addicted to sex as others are consumed by drugs and alcohol.

Take Mark Ruffalo’s Adam, who upon first blush seems almost too good to be true. He’s a handsome, down-to-earth, successful environmental consultant with an amazing home and a bounty of friends. But every walk down the street, every billboard for lingerie, even a passing flirtatious glance from a stranger, is fraught with peril, and soon Adam is clenching his fists, calling his sponsor or racing to the nearest meeting so he can keep from falling into an abyss of nonstop, self-destructive sexual encounters.

Though containing some dramatic and even tragic moments, “Thanks for Sharing” is mostly a romantic comedy asking us to sympathize not only with Adam, but also with his sponsor Mike (Tim Robbins), who has a slew of his own demons, and Neil (Josh Gad), a wisecracking doctor whose addiction crosses over the line into predatory behavior. It’s a tribute to the script by Stuart Blumberg and Matt Winston, the directorial aplomb of Blumberg and the genuine performances of the cast that most of the time, we care about these people, we believe their problems are real and we want them to get the help they so desperately need.

Robbins is a standout as “Big Mike,” one of those guys that fill up a room with his hulking physicality and his big heart and his seemingly bottomless compassion. In recovery himself, Mike is a mentor, friend and father figure to Adam. (Mike’s relationship with his own son isn’t nearly so warm and forgiving.)

Following the same template as Alcoholics Anonymous, the sexual addicts meet in church basements and classrooms around the city, telling their stories, receiving chips marking 30 days or a year or 10 years of progress. Dede says she’s never figured out a way to connect with another human being that didn’t involve sex. (Good work here from Alecia Moore, known in the pop music world as Pink, as Dede.) The aforementioned Neil, a promising doctor, can’t ride the subway because he’ll try to cop a feel, and he loses his job after his boss catches him using a hidden camera to peek up her skirt.

Josh Gad, so terrific as Steve Woszniak in “Jobs,” is even better here as the pathetic Neil. His friendship with Dede is funny and sweet — but the guy’s a criminal. It’s tough to like him even as we like him.

More convincing and involving are the story lines about Adam’s budding romance with a beautiful fitness freak (Gwyneth Paltrow, who seems to be gamely poking fun at her own “Visit my website and be as perfect as me!” image), and Big Mike’s problems at home.

We know the wheels are going to come off for at least some of these folks, and when they do, the crash is spectacularly awful. When “Thanks for Sharing” goes dark, it’s pitch-black stuff.

First-time director Blumberg does a fine job and makes some brave choices, including the use of Billy Bragg’s “Tender Comrade,” a heartrending song about coming home from war that’s way over the top for this subject matter and yet still works.

After the bleak brilliance of “Shame” (2011), this is an almost sunny look at sexual addiction — and further argument it’s a real thing that happens to decent people who just want to find love without it destroying them.

Email: rroeper@suntimes.com

Twitter: @richardroeper



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