Movie Review: Running With Scissors
FILM REVIEW: RUNNING WITH SCISSORS
By Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Leo Tolstoy wrote it and a million Google-assembled term papers have quoted it: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
But Tolstoy never caught "Running with Scissors," based on Augusten Burroughs' Amherst- and Northampton, Mass.-set memoir about growing up among a free-floating menagerie of sociopaths. Had he seen it, he would've rethought the "unhappy family" bit, since every beat of the picture has the ring of pushy inauthenticity, and despite all the outre eccentricities, a plodding lack of uniqueness.
Burroughs is on the record as being thrilled with the film and its fidelity to the book, set mostly in the 1970s. We'll have to agree to disagree. Not even Annette Bening playing 17 variations on the theme of nutso, some of them recognizably human, can salvage it.
Bening dines out and then orders out in the role of Deirdre Burroughs, who in Burroughs' memoir describes herself as "the biggest bitch in the world." Mired in a can't-win marriage to an alcoholic professor (Alec Baldwin), Deirdre pours her modicum of talent into confessional poetry and her writers' group. "Get the rage on the page, women," she instructs her charges. The one played by Kristin Chenoweth ends up in her bed.
After Deirdre splits with her husband, her therapist and eventual lover, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), keeps her doped up on Valium. Finch adopts Deirdre's son, Augusten (Joseph Cross), and brings him into his family of colorful personalities. The extended Finch clan includes the doctor's doormat of a wife (Jill Clayburgh) and testy, moody daughters (Evan Rachel Wood and Gwyneth Paltrow). Another adoptee comes and goes; he is Neil, played by Joseph Fiennes in a moustache borrowed from "White Line Fever." Neil becomes Augusten's first lover.
Adapter-director Ryan Murphy, the man behind "Nip/Tuck," is after a complicated blend of comic tones, but the results are softer than pudding. Murphy neglects the main virtue in Burroughs' writing: its fleetness. "Running" isn't the word for the movie version of "Running with Scissors"; Murphy and editor Byron Smith act like we have all ... the ... time ... in ... the ... world to listen to these caricatures explain themselves and set up the next wacko development. "God, I hate my life," says Wood at one point, nursing her pain. "I hate this kitchen," Cross replies, just before they start knocking holes in the ceiling. That's funny, you think. That's how I feel about your movie.
"You look at my mother's craziness as something to entertain you," Cross's Augusten says late in the game. It's a deeply hypocritical moment: Laughing at the freaks and then feeling bad about it is the sole reason for the existence of this pale little film.
"Running with Scissors"
Directed by Ryan Murphy; screenplay by Murphy, based on the memoir by Augusten Burroughs; cinematography by Christopher Baffa; edited by Byron Smith; production design by Richard Sherman; music by James S. Levine; produced by Murphy, Dede Gardner, Brad Grey and Brad Pitt. A TriStar Pictures release; opens Friday, Oct. 27. Running time: 1:56. MPAA rating: R (strong language and elements of sexuality, violence and substance abuse).
Deirdre - Annette Bening
Dr. Finch - Brian Cox
Neil - Joseph Fiennes
Natalie - Evan Rachel Wood
Hope - Gwyneth Paltrow
Agnes - Jill Clayburgh
Augusten - Joseph Cross
Norman - Alec Baldwin