Filmmaker Stuart Blumberg, left, actor Mark Ruffalo, actress Gwyneth… (Arthur Mola )
TORONTO -- Is sex addiction real? It's the question that, in the wake of scandals involving Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer and others, drove Stuart Blumberg to co-write and direct "Thanks for Sharing," which debuted Saturday night to a raucous crowd at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and "Book of Mormon's" Josh Gad as three men in various states of recovery from sex addiction, the film is the comedic version of last year's challenging "Shame," focusing more on the communal aspect of 12-step programs, rather than the behavior that leads people into those rooms in the first place.
Ruffalo's character Adam serves as the heart of the film, a seemingly successful product of Sex Addicts Anonymous. But his five years sober has forced him into a monastic lifestyle: no TV, no smart phone, no masturbation. It's only when he's encouraged to start dating again, specifically with a character played by Gwyneth Paltrow, that it all falls apart.
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For Ruffalo, who worked previously with Blumberg on "The Kids Are All Right," it was a role he found nearly impossible to get right.
“I almost find him grotesque in the beginning. He’s so staid and controlled and oddly phoney. Then you see him get turned on and all of a sudden you see, 'Oh, that’s Adam too.' I wondered if, performance-wise, I could do that,” he said. “Plus, he’s the straight guy. A lot of the other people get the comedy, and I didn’t know if that would play. Are you going to care about him?"
Ruffalo knows sex addicts, has been to meetings with friends and has handed out sobriety chips and cakes to others who have worked 12-step programs. So it wasn't unfamiliar territory or anything he believed not to be real.
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He agrees with a line in the film uttered by Robbins, "It's like trying to quit crack while the pipe is attached to your body."
To Ruffalo, the humor was what made the script so palatable.
In 12-step meeting rooms, there are "beautiful shifts from really funny to really moving, and I always thought that it was really great drama," said Ruffalo, who got a hold of Blumberg, and co-writer Matt Winston's, script during the promotion for "The Kids Are All Right."
"I was surprised by how well he captured that. I thought it was a really great way into the 12-step program and it tells the story in a really credible way that’s funny."
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