Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is a sex addict who maintains sexual sobriety by understanding his triggers, and he finds help and comfort through a support group. There, his sponsor Mike (Tim Robbins) leads by example, but has arguably found a substitute for his sexual addiction in his dependence on the recovery program itself. Neil (Josh Gad) is a young doctor who ultimately loses his career due to his repeated lying about his behaviour.

After a lot of counselling and support, Adam feels he might be ready for a meaningful relationship. He is lucky enough to meet Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), a beautiful, independent woman who is resolutely against dating any sort of addict. The smitten Adam hides his background from her, and their powerful mutual attraction accelerates them towards real commitment — until a small incident exposes Adam’s secret...

Safe sex.

This is a movie about three men, all recovering sex addicts. For nearly two hours, it doggedly tracks what happens to them and the people they care about; all the while, they fight to beat an urge that is, well, screwing them up.

there’s nothing remotely erotic about any of it

The promotional material and poster – dominated by the tousled handsomeness of Mark Ruffalo and a glowingly smiling and blonde Gwyneth Paltrow – makes believe that the movie behind this upbeat promise of an undemanding good time is some kind of rom-com. Well, not quite. To be sure there is romance here, but it’s not the main game.

Directed by Stuart Blumberg, who wrote the wincingly funny The Kids Are All Right, Thanks for Sharing is another entry in a marginal but growing sub-genre: the 'therapy movie’. (I’m thinking about things like the excellent Silver Linings Playbook.)

The setting is a New York that’s neither gritty nor glamorous; it looks like a place real people live. Cinematographer Yaron Orbach can’t help but make downtown appear monumental or Central Park pretty in the sunshine, but the look strives for a comfy form of 'you are there’ immediacy: an unflattering naturalness favoured by filmmakers who harbour ambitions of seriousness.

The script by Blumberg and Matt Winston allows that the condition of sex addiction can be funny, sad, and tragic, but it’s no joke. The plot mechanics advance an earnest plea for understanding that positions us all – no matter what the 'problem’ – as 'stuffed up’. Which is to say that there’s nothing that’s especially threatening here; it kept reminding me of the way that TV therapy gurus reassure their sad, eager-to-please problem-plagued 'clients’ as heroes in a world that refuses the possibility that there is any longer such a thing as a victim.

Like so much recent American cinema, there’s nothing remotely erotic about any of it. The humour is careful not to get its hands too dirty and no matter how nasty the melodrama gets, it’s underwritten by a glowing optimism that says recovery is a real destination for all (and not a remote possibility).

Blumberg and Winston create a dense and neat narrative economy. They use the three main characters to canvas a discrete aspect of recovery and at the same time hit a key dramatic register. So Mark Ruffalo’s Adam gets the romantic subplot. He meets Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), a cancer survivor and health nut. They get excited. I know they like each other because there is more than one scene where they go on and on about how hot they think the other is.

Mark has been five years sober, which means no casual sex and no masturbation. Once Phoebe discovers Mark’s 'secret’, the budding relationship is cloaked in paranoid imaginings leading to nocturnal showdowns full of disappointment and recrimination.

In some ways, Tim Robbins has the tougher role. He plays Mike, a family man, and group therapy guru and Adam’s sponsor. The script assigns him the task of delivering gnomic would-be wise epigrams; the sort of highly quotable blah that has turned the self-help industry into a billion dollar concern. Mike’s story is the family-drama melodramatic subplot. He’s a guy of tremendous willpower with a long-suffering but loving wife (Joely Richardson) who cannot admit to his own faults or forgive his addict son for past transgressions. Patrick Fugit plays the adult child; it’s a small part but an important bit and he’s easily the best thing in the film.

I think it says a lot about the film’s somewhat wholesome sensibility that it’s Josh Gad’s Neil who appears as both the film’s comic foil and its testament to the virulent, dangerous anti-social possibilities of sex addiction; he’s a cute goof with a big heart who humiliates himself constantly (while we never really see how his compulsions impact his victims). Overweight, sloppy and chronically unreliable, Neil’s 'issues’ has had him up on charges with the law; that’s how he’s ended up in Sex Addicts Anonymous. He’s not permitted to ride public transport because he has a compulsion to 'goose’ female passengers. He loses his job as an ER physician after he is caught trying to acquire an up-skirt video of his attractive female boss. Blumberg and Winston provide Neil with a doting Jewish mother played at full tilt by a seemingly unembarrassed Carol Kane; it’s a role that’s wandered in from a dumber movie than this one. Neil’s redemption arrives in the form of Dede (Alecia Moore aka Pink, quite good), a fellow 12-stepper. A seriously damaged punker who can’t relate to men other than through sex, Dede is in need of a friend; meanwhile, Neil is desperate for something to rip him away from his, um, self-obsession. It’s a subplot designed as a paean to group therapy and it’s typical of the film’s comfort-blanket writing. Still, I can’t fault the film’s faith in the power of community to help soothe the kinds of secret wounds that can’t quite heal.

But Blumberg and Winston do court a form of 'danger’ and that’s the best stuff in the movie. I’m not talking about the masturbation scenes. (Though, the spectacle of Ruffalo with his, um, hand on it, sent the female-dominated preview audience dead quiet.)

Near the end of the movie there’s a stunning vignette where sex becomes scary, embarrassing, and claustrophobic – the sort of stuff mainstream movies rarely touch. The scene features the fabulous Emily Meade as a casual sex partner for Ruffalo. Looking like jail-bait, she attempts to draw him into an S&M 'daddy’ role-play. He refuses. She breaks down. It all works out okay, but for a moment I didn’t know what was going to happen and the film felt momentarily alive with genuine feeling.

Thanks for Sharing means well. The acting is pretty good. It’s likeable. But maybe it shouldn’t be. I think, like its characters, it fears rejection and so it sticks to a familiar game. It ends up stroking the feel good zone like the old fashioned movie it’s pretending not to be.