Neither the kids nor the adults are all right in Oscar-nominated screenwriter Stuart Blumberg’s serious sex-addiction dramedy, his debut film as a director.
Where Shame played sex-addiction as art-house tragedy, and Californication milks it for laughs, Blumberg turns it into that rare beast, the male melodrama. Adroitly weaving together three stories of New York addicts in recovery, it all starts rather promisingly.
Mark Ruffalo’s five-years-sober Adam is hiding his dark past from new girlfriend Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), 15-year veteran Mike (Tim Robbins) is rattled by the reappearance of his junkie son (Patrick Fugit), and sex-crazed ER doctor Neil (Josh Gad) can’t be parted from his porn collection or his ‘upskirt camera’.
This is the kind of thoughtful adult material that cinema should face head on; the film is jumpily acute about how hard recovery is for the trio in a hypersexualised society.
Too bad, then, that the three strands start to unfold with the predictability of a Lifetime TV movie, including Neil’s move from subway-pervert zero to unlikely hero, with a little help from gutsy ex-nympho Dede (pop star Pink).
Unlike The Kids Are All Right, whose relaxed mix of comedy and drama made it both hilarious and heartfelt, the script is far too uptight to milk AA or sex addiction for blackly-comic laughs, Choke-style.
Thus, it becomes over-reliant on Neil’s fat-boy-on-a-bike pratfalls, or Adam and Phoebe’s arch badinage, and consequently the laughs are few and far between.
What keeps the show on the road are the three male lead performances, which are commendably stripped-down and honest. Ruffalo, raw with nerves from craving porn and prossies, is as good as he’s ever been, Gad is a twitchy revelation, and Robbins is quietly excellent as the homily-spouting AA patriarch who can’t recognise his own hypocrisy.
Despite Gwynnie and her lingerie-clad lap-dancing, this sober, issue-based dramedy is preachy and a tad soapy, rather than provocative. Fine acting, though.