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When somebody enters a 12-step program to deal with addiction, it's meant to be an all-encompassing, life-changing process — and one we don't always hear about.
But in Stuart Blumberg's romantic comedy Thanks for Sharing, which hits theaters this weekend, the 12-step program is front and center. In this case it's for people struggling day to day with sex addiction, forging bonds with their fellow addicts and sponsors.
And, in the case of the character played by Mark Ruffalo, with a new girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow). Indeed, the film's central story line is about what happens when someone with an addiction tries to connect — to open up — to someone who doesn't share that burden.
"One of the really tough parts about this addiction is sex becomes a drug," Blumberg says. "It doesn't become, necessarily, an avenue for exploring intimacy. And ostensibly, you want sex to be exciting and fun and thrilling, but you also want the ability to share tender feelings. And in the stories I heard [while doing research], the thing that was most challenging for a lot of people was recombining those two things."
Sex is everywhere at the movies, of course, but it's often sex for sex's sake, presented because it's time to show someone's body. But Blumberg, who was one of the writers behind The Kids Are All Right and The Girl Next Door, says that in Hollywood stories, sex is "not often looked [at] with an unflinching eye."
Blumberg talked with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish about making a movie about topics, and relationships, that are typically, and often intentionally, very private.
On researching the movie
I went to a ton of meetings. I had gone to Al-Anon meetings years ago because I had people in my life who had problems with alcohol, and so that's how I got introduced to 12-step programs. And through that I learned about the whole litany of programs people could go to, whether it's DA for people with debt, or OA for people who overeat, and SA and other things for people who have problems with sexual addiction.
You know in the course of the 2000s there were a lot of very high-profile examples of sex addiction, and I thought this is an idea whose time has come, and it's sort of entering the cultural zeitgeist. And I got interested, and I just started to, basically, go to meetings for sex addiction. And some of the meetings are open — where people can go if they're ostensibly just going to see if they belong. And I just started to accumulate stories that way.
On making a movie about recovery instead of about a crackup
I think people pruriently just love watching the descent. In my movie I wanted to show what happens when someone goes down the rabbit hole, but it was equally important for me to show, OK, what do you do once you make the decision to come out [of it]?
And the other thing I really wanted to talk about in this movie, [a thing] I really find fascinating and I've explored in other films, is people who make their own communities. And that's what I've found interesting, exploring these 12-step groups; they're sort of self-created communities of fellowship. Where other structures in society may have fallen, the nuclear family and all this stuff, these are people who found a way to really support each other, [and] be the kinds of people they want to be.
On how he think about sex in his movies
I think I'm trying to explore, in a fun, interesting, dramatic way, the part that sex plays in our lives — in all of its different manifestations. And, you know, we are messy sexual creatures. And I think that's really great film fodder. And so I've always found it really thrilling when people spoke to me without pandering to me about this — presented it in a really honest way. And that's something I've tried to do.
On sex-addiction skeptics
Well I think that people, when they think about sex, that's something that people consider a natural endeavor that humans participate in. And so they have a hard time categorizing it as something that one can get addicted to. I think it's much easier for people to look at something like heroin or look at something like booze, and wrap their minds around that.