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Reviews

Thanks for Sharing

Gareth Higgins

Sex and love addiction is not a likely subject for a comedy, and it's easy to be sceptical that such a film could deliver a humane treatment of something so misunderstood, but Thanks for Sharing, in which Mark Ruffalo is first seen praying, Tim Robbins makes amends, Gwyneth Paltrow examines her judgementalism, Pink goes dancing with an overweight nerdy guy instead of shagging her manipulative ex, and we have more than a handful of scenes of people talking about their shadows, is both hilarious and profound.

The Franciscan teacher Richard Rohr claims that the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are 'America's most significant and authentic contribution to the history of spirituality'. Practicing the steps teaches us to 'breathe under water', and in the words of perhaps the second most well known prayer in the English language, to discern the difference between realistic and unrealistic expectations: to change what we can, and to accept the rest. Such words may collide with the understandable if often irrational 'world-changing' spirituality that seems to shout loudest in contemporary culture. Change yourself, say the twelve steps; that's enough. And in changing yourself, you will of course change the world entirely.

Addiction and recovery have been thoughtfully engaged by movies before now - in such grave works as The Days of Wine and Roses, Clean and Sober, and Abel Ferrara's masterpieces Bad Lieutenant and The Addiction, which takes the unquenchable thirst for that which never satisfies to one very logical, very extreme, by making its protagonist an intellectually smug vampire. A personal self-evaluation of sex and love addiction, one of the more recently popularized twelve step applications, is still met with skepticism in some quarters - it's easier to suggest that some people are just selfish or making excuses for the trail of wounds left by their infidelity. But people used to say the same about alcohol or drug dependency - some insensitive souls still do.

In Thanks for Sharing, the writer-director Stuart Blumberg has offered his own significant and authentic contribution to the history of cinema spirituality: a work of serious art disguised as a piece of fluff, whose emotional truths may be far more resonant than other more po-faced works.

Christian responses to addiction - not just to sex and love - have varied from full support and facilitation of the twelve steps to complete ignorance or even denunciation. This film is unlikely to be seen by too many people who have already decided that their brand of Puritanism is a substitute for fearless moral inventories, sponsorship, and surrender to the kind of higher power who hasn't already been restricted by theological sectarianism, but for now perhaps this film will help offer solidarity to those wounded saints who walk broken because of their 'treatment' at the hands of well-meaning people who decided they knew better than one of the most effective spiritual growth movements the world has ever seen.

Thanks for Sharing is formally daring, allowing at least nine memorable characters time to breathe - we see three couples in different stages: long-married, tolerant, suffering spouses; newly blossoming lovers; and will-they/won't-they platonic friends. These mingle with the unlocking of a domineering mother-son relationship, a can't-see-the-wood-for-the-trees fatherson interaction, and a fella who just needs a little help. There's fall and redemption, and fall again; there's magnificent grace in the form of one character's withdrawal of her projections and scapegoating of another as she faces her own inner demons; there are people learning to take responsibility, to live accountably, and to love community. This movie tries to do a great deal, and mostly succeeds. No, it's not The Deer Hunter of sex addiction cinema, which is refreshing, because it wraps its deep imagination about soul-truths in a package that recognizes that some things are difficult enough to handle already without turning a drama into a crisis. There's a reason we speak of the human 'comedy', and as we seek more light, and whatever it means to grow up, we might learn that that probably includes taking our bodies and our appetites, and our addictions, seriously enough to laugh at them.