Running with Scissors (2006)
Running with Scissors (2006)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: October 27th, 2006 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ryan Murphy Actors: Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Joseph Cross, Jill Clayburgh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gabrielle Union, Patrick Wilson, Kristin Chenoweth, Dagmara Dominczyk

 


 

“R

unning with Scissors” chronicles Augusten Burroughs’ childhood, starting in 1971 when he was six years old. His mother Deirdre (Annette Bening) is a suffering poet, who has delusions of performing for packed theaters, but is rejected by local newspapers and magazines and must comfort herself by degrading the poetry of others. Augusten’s father Norman (Alec Baldwin) is an alcoholic teacher, who has long given up trying to resolve any of his marital problems. When the household fighting worsens, Deirdre suggests Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), an anomalous therapist who is unable to mend anything at all. Augusten’s parents split for good; Deirdre wanders off to a hotel, where she can comfortably become addicted to a wide assortment of drugs, while Augusten is left in the care of Finch and his equally divergent relatives. Somehow, within his increasingly abominable situation, Augusten (Joseph Cross) is able to find understanding and resolution – and the power to make life-changing decisions.

What starts as a captivatingly darker version of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” eventually delves too deep into the not-so-humorous lair of substance misuse, sexual abuse, and psychotic nonconformity. Annette Bening delivers an outstanding performance as the emotionally unstable and narcotics-riddled matriarch, who inadvertently dismantles Augusten’s life alongside her own. She delicately balances humorous delusions and tormented personality shifts with Oscar-worthy precision. Joseph Cross also does an admirable job portraying the confused Augusten, a wretched soul caught in the hopelessness of poor influences and even worse role models. In fact, it would be unfair not to mention nearly every member of the ensemble cast composing the anti-Brady Bunch family. Evan Rachel Wood plays Natalie, the disenchanted yet rebellious daughter, who seems to be the only one with whom Augusten can effectively connect; Gwyneth Paltrow plays Hope, the religiously “good” daughter who believes she can communicate with her dead cat; and Jill Clayburgh is Agnes, the faithful wife of Dr. Finch, who whittles away the hours watching old horror films and eating dog food. Each character is sharply brought to life and fascinating to watch (in the beginning), even as they head toward self-destruction.

As promising as that may sound, the problems are as abundant as the distinguished cast. Based on the memoirs of the real-life Augusten Burroughs, the outlandish characters are presented quite comically, when in reality, his childhood must have been absolutely horrifying. Since the storyline follows the series of twisted occurrences surrounding Augusten until he is about 15, the conclusion is far from satisfactory. Most of the happenings, while unexpected, never lead anywhere, as his life is far from over. And since this is only a small piece of his adventure, the project comes to an abrupt stop. Many scenes are intentionally funny, but the majority of the episodes are so deranged, viewers will find themselves perpetually stuck between a smirk and a grimace. Eccentric and bizarre cannot even begin to describe the nightmarish and sadly farcical atrocities bestowed upon Augusten and the Finch residence.

Equal parts hilarious, maniacal, puzzling, and severely depressing, it’s difficult to ignore the entertainment value that quickly subsides after the first half-hour. Fans of Augusten Burroughs’ writing will probably want to see “Running With Scissors” to judge the faithfulness of its adaptation, but for everyone else, the mood swings and the uncomfortable strangeness of it all will surely be too much to handle. A few hysterical moments can’t compensate for the prolonged weirdness that blankets the picture, lending to constant confusion as to what is meant to be purposely absurd and what is accidentally funny.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10