Thanks for Sharing

This film gets a lot more right than wrong. It’s not the first to portray 12 step programs and their members but it’s a solid if somewhat conventional effort. It lacks the visceral punch of Bill W, a documentary on the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the humor of I Am a Sex Addict, a tongue in cheek “confession” by Caveh Zahedi, the filmmaker, of his sex addiction.
Thanks follows a small set of characters, most notably Adam (perhaps a symbolic name, for the ‘after the fall’ phase of the story), who has five years of freedom from his addictive behavior (compulsive masturbation, casual one night stands, prostitutes–all of which leave him feeling empty and unfulfilled). As his mentor, Mike (Tim Robbins), notes, his sobriety has been predicated on abstinence rather than a deeper, more intimate relation. Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) then comes along to provide the chance for intimacy. Adam, (Mark Ruffalo) climbs into this new role of genuine engagement with another person a bit awkwardly but with growing excitement at what it offers. His sobriety is put the test, however, when Phoebe learns more about Adam than Adam’s been ready to admit. Given that the film tries to cover a lifetime struggle against addictive behavior in some 100 minutes, the crisis lets us see how for him, and for other characters, descent to the dark side is a (futile) escape from painful feelings and the fear of loss.
Adam’s not the only one to face a crisis and falter. His mentor has never had the courage to face his grown, drug addicted son and offer amends for the harm his own drunken ways caused as the boy grew up. Robbins is superb at acting the senior mentor, the wise man of the group who has, nonetheless, his own unacknowledged shadow. Fear reigns among the addicted: fear of intimacy most of all but compounded by fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of feelinig unworthy, inadequate and incompetent. Feelings are a swampland and the addiction a route out. But a route, that as with other addictions, has its own dark miasmic underbelly.
Thanks gets much of this right, including the stories of the other characters that have similar arcs of compulsion, fear and steps toward a budding sense of intimacy. It’s right, though, inm the way melodramas are right: it runs through the anticipated emotional spectrum, throws in supportive but forgetable music, and allows to see how the characters pull themselves together without ever feeling we are at grave risk for entering a dark, forbidding world. A lightness of cinematic being provides a comforting reassurance.
And then there’s also a bit of dissonance. Gwyneth Paltrow is one of my least favorite actresses. I confess. She never seems to inhabit roles but rather to display how she would present them if only she could, in fact, inhabit them. Here she is supposed to be an assertive, humorous, compulsive, hyper-vigilant vegan and dedicated triathlete who also loves sexual role play. That these traits are not commonly found in any one person to the side, Paltrow is no more convincing as an athlete than as a seductress. Adam is clearly grateful to discover someone, anyone, can actually accept and love him although even he has a moment of lucidity when he realizes she’s addicted to her own drugs (borderline anorexia and feats of endurance) of choice, with even less control over them than Adam himself. If only Paltrow made this addictive side belieavable, or anything else about her character, Adam’s attraction would then take on denser, more dangerous connotations, but that will have to await the remake with Kate Winslett.

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2 thoughts on “Thanks for Sharing

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