Annette Bening….Deidre Burroughs
Brain Cox….Dr. Finch
Joseph Fiennes….Neil Bookman
Evan Rachel Wood….Natalie Finch
Alec Baldwin….Norman Burroughs
Joseph Cross….Augusten Burroughs
Jill Clayburgh….Agnes Finch
Gwyneth Paltrow….Hope Finch
Sony Home Video presents Running With Scissors. Screenplay by Ryan Murphy. Running time: 116 minutes. Rated R. Theatrical release October 20, 2006. DVD released Feb. 6, 2007.
Everyone thinks their family is insane, but Running with Scissors shows a kid who survives two batty families. The film is based on the memoir of Augusten Burroughs’ teen years. when he bounced between his family and his mom’s psychiatrist’s family. This a Dickens adventure transported to the garish yellows of the ’70s.
Augusten Burroughs, an effete youth, deals with a drunk father and a mother in the middle of a nervous breakdown. Mom swears she’s being held back from being the most beloved poet in America by her husband. In order to save the marriage, they go into therapy with a psychiatrist who demands they meet five hours a day. But it turns out that the mother needs a more intense form of therapy. It is decided that what’s best for Augusten is to have him live with the psychiatrist’s family. Instead of being a sanctuary of sanity, the shrink’s home is an insane asylum without padded walls. They haven’t taken down the Christmas tree from a few years back. The wife snacks on dog food while watching Dark Shadows. The house looks like a yardsale explosion. Everything is covered in filth. A child takes a dump on the floor and he’s commended. The shrink’s two daughters have no moral compass. They don’t mind starving cats to death or giving guests shock therapy. Plus there’s a creepy guy who wants to help Augusten blossom in his sexual identity. How can a young boy possibly survive all the trainwrecks around him?
This dark comedy that was being hyped for Oscar glory in the Fall. It was set up to be another American Beauty. But it vaporized from theaters after barely a month. Was it really that big of a dud? The major thing working against it was the truth. Turns out the real family of the psychiatrist protested what they called a fictional account of their lives. They declared that he betrayed their familial love. They especially didn’t like their house being called dirty. There’s currently a lawsuit over the book to expose Augusten as the latest James Frey (A Million Little Pieces. If we can’t take it as truth, does Running With Scissors work as a piece of fiction?
Not really. “I want to be special and I want to be famous,” the kid tells his father. While the heroes in films do eventually become special and famous through their actions, it’s really annoying when that’s their dream. Even lamer is his goal to run off to New York City and become a writer. This is the ending to so many painful film school movies. That’s two major strikes against the character. I’m barely rooting for him to survive and flourish. We see how Augusten has no problem using and abusing people in the film. This probably comes into play when the real Augusten exploited and elaborated upon his days at the shrink’s house in order to achieve his big goal of being a famous writer. He’s just not a worthwhile movie character.
There are two characters and performances that shine amongst the bleakness. Brian Cox is a marvel as Dr. Finch. He arrives like the priest in The Exorcist with the shadows and fog. But instead of ridding the family of Satan, he entices their demons to evolve. Cox was the original Hannibal Lecter. He knows how to nail the unbalanced shrink role without turning into a dinner theater kook. When he predicts the family’s future through the shape of his bowel movement, his performance is right on the edge. You can believe he believes his destiny floats in the toilet.
Evan Rachel Wood plays the youngest daughter as Wednesday Addams in hot pants. The star of Thirteen is so tempting and seductive. It’s easy to see how she could talk someone into letting her strap them into an electro-shock therapy machine. She completely allows us to ignore Gwyneth Paltrow in the role of the older sister.
Ryan Murphy, the creative force of Nip/Tuck, seemed to be the man most capable of bringing light moments to such a dark comedy. He creates a cinematic world reminiscent of The Royal Tenenmbaums without the formalist framings. But even with the occasional flight of whimsy, the film is too depressing. It’s easy to see why these characters would resort to pills and booze. This isn’t a film meant to be mixed with popcorn.
The picture is 2.40:1 anamorphic. The picture transfer is great. The film seems overexposed to make everyone look rather pasty.
The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Portuguese and Spanish. The French audio is in Dolby Surround. The subtitles are in English, French. Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish. There’s a smoothness from when they go from dialogue to songs.
Inside the Outsiders (8:26) focuses on the actors and their roles. “Nobody comes apart on film better than Annette,” raves Alec Baldwin during his interview. Brian Cox uses his real accent during the interview.
A Personal Memoir by Augusten Burroughs (6:03) is the writer refusing to deal with the issue of the “reality” of his memoir. He basks in his glory as one who overcame intense dysfunctionality. He discusses how Ryan Murphy pursued him to adapt the memoir.
Creating the Cuckoo’s Nest (4:31) allows Richard Sherman to talk about his production design for the Finch’s filthy house. He did an amazing job of making the house a character with its yardsale menagerie.