There are shades of meaning here, but overall this is another American template film – cheesy fluff disguised as comedy and accompanied with repetitive chirpy music, interspliced with moments of real drama. The trouble with this ‘playing it safe’ formula is that it rarely satisfies, either as simple entertainment or as serious thought provoking art. The subject of the day is sex addiction, and two of the main characters, played by Mark Ruffalo and Tim Robbins, are sober former addicts who have bonded through their therapy sessions, where they meet new addition to the group Neil, played by Josh Gad. Ruffalo’s self will is put to the test with succubus Gwyneth Paltrow, Robbins must confront the long lasting effects his addiction has had on his family, meanwhile Gad is the only one who really convinces as having real problems as we see him trying to resist rubbing up against women in the subway and give up junk food at the same time – then in steps pop artist Pink as the sex addicted woman simply in need of a male friend and a good hug.
Comparing this to Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame’ (11), which was a much more focused portrayal of the same subject, it’s impossible not to see this as almost laughably bad for the most part, and it is not really until the final quarter that it dares to show any real teeth at all. The inclusion of Pink doesn’t help – she is actually quite good in it, but there is a natural dismay at seeing someone who already has an established high profile career and image appear on film at the expense of another actress trying to get a foot in the door, especially when they appear onscreen out of the blue and look for all intents and purposes exactly as they do in their other career.
Paltrow’s character almost laughs off sex addiction as an excuse for men to play around – and it is fair criticism for something that isn’t really in the public domain, asides from Michael Douglas publicly claiming he was a victim of it, and the aforementioned ‘Shame’. Is it a real condition on a par with alcoholism? This film did not leave me especially convinced. Could it perhaps be that it is more the cocktail of chemicals that must be floating around the body of someone who is constantly chasing tail – a mixture they enjoy but also suffer from: the weight of society’s watchful gaze, the lies and deception that might come with that: the stress of worrying about infection constantly: the knowledge one day it would have to end in order to have a family: the boredom of mundane work compared to the adrenaline fix of trying it on with every hottie around (especially the ones at work). With a substance addiction even though the body can’t handle what’s being thrown at it, that same body can continue to physically administer it – but with sex the body will reach a point where it’s simply no longer possible to continue with it, and surely drive must fall when that happens?
Probably it is also a question of loneliness, or emptiness – and perhaps it is possible to become addicted to anything that can be used to fill that void, forcing any addict to stare into it whenever the fix has run out, spurring them to run back to their crux with ever increasing desperation. The film shows the support group giving up on masturbation for extended periods of time (possibly indefinitely) – I was always under the impression human males have to ejaculate a certain amount of times a week in order to keep various bits and bobs healthy. Naturally, I was never sufficiently interested to investigate this further – I can only advise that easily the most satisfying way to end a sexual encounter is to quickly EAT your partner. Interpret that how you will.