Running with Scissors
Director: Ryan Murphy
Book: Augusten Burroughs
Screenplay: Ryan Murphy
Producers: Dede Gardner, Brad Grey, Matt Kennedy, Ryan Murphy, Brad Pitt
Starring: Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Joseph Cross, Gwyneth Paltrow
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 116 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

by Andrew James
     What would happen if you wrote a script using the largest collection of the most mentally unstable characters ever to appear on film? Answer: a mentally unstable film with a disturbing amount of everything that is grotesque about the human psyche (i.e. Running with Scissors).

      Based on the book by Augusten Burroughs, this semi-autobiography focusses on Augusten's young life from childhood into his teens. His mentally abusive parents (Bening and Baldwin) are fighting constantly and eventually part ways. Before splitting up, the couple tries a last ditch effort with a marriage counselor, Dr. Finch, played by Brian Cox. This counselor is even crazier than they are and has a home life unlike anything I've ever seen. He lives in a pink mansion with plastic statues adorning the lawn. Inside, it is a complete mess: a two-year-old, dead christmas tree, piles of dirty dishes and general junk lying everywhere.

      As Augusten's mother becomes closer to Dr. Finch and deeper and deeper into a depressive medicated state, Augusten is forced to spend more and more time in the Finch household with the doctors two oddball daughters and strangely quiet wife. The scenarios and general life within the household are, needless to say, odd to say the least. God talking through turds, eating dog kibble and a 35 year old, gay step son who shows up once in a while just to turn things upside down for a while. To continue would be pointless. I think you can see the pattern here.

      The story starts out well enough; even funny at times. Watching the strange and interesting interactions between all of these clearly insane people is fun and amusing for a time. But after about 45 minutes, the amusement starts to fade and we're just left with sadness. Not sadness in a powerful way, just sadness in an annoying way. I couldn't help by shake my head in embarrassment and pity for these pathetic people.

      This isn't to say that the acting isn't well done. Bening has been getting some serious Oscar buzz for this role, but I think as time rolls on and we realize it's way to much of an over the top performance, the buzz will slowly start to fizzle. Baldwin does well with his limited screen time and Brian Cox is cleverly hilarious as the "crazy" doctor. Aside from Cox, relative newcomer Joseph Cross and Joseph Fiennes add plenty of depth to the story and are really bright spots in the movie.

      For first time, feature-length director Ryan Murphy, the film does have style; lots of style. It's obvious that P.T. Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) had some influence in Murphy's ideas of how to show, not just tell a story; albeit without the same amount of flair. Taking place throughout the 70's, I felt immersed in the era without making it feel overwrought or distracting. From the hair-styles to the clothing to the props, it is super authentic and fun to look at.

      Despite interesting characters, well done acting and a unique storyline, the movie is just a depressing series of fights, arguments and bad blood. Drug dependency, divorce, adoption, suicide, under-age sex, alcoholism and homosexuality are all issues that are present in the film, but never tackled or discussed seriously. It's just a variety of depressing emotions that surround each and every character and make them constantly worse off and consumed by darkness. There's no light at the end of this darkness and it just goes on and on and on and on with two hours of general unpleasantness.

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Links: - full cast and crew
Official Site
FLIXSTER PROFILE for Running with Scissors