Running With Scissors

2006, Movie, R, 116 mins


Augusten Burrough's best-selling Me Decade memoir of a misbegotten adolescence spent shuttling between his manic-depressive mother and her psychiatrist is horrifying and almost too terrible to be entirely true; toned down and tamed for the screen, it's just a John Irving-esque romp about a colorful, quirky family. Augusten (Joseph Cross) is young, gay and on the verge of becoming a full-blown obsessive compulsive. If things weren't complicated enough, Deirdre (Annette Bening), the grandiose, narcissistic mother he worships, and Norman (Alec Baldwin), the alcoholic father he hardly knows, are on the verge of divorce. When Dad finally splits, Deirdre deposits Augusten at the home of Dr. Marion Finch (Brian Cox), the psychiatrist who plies her with Valium and encourages her increasingly psychotic quest to access her creative unconscious through abysmal confessional poetry. The Finch house is a dilapidated, Pepto-Bismol-pink pile filled with garbage, dirty dishes and various Finches: The doctor's haggard, long-suffering wife (Jill Clayburgh); his devoted eldest daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow), who consults the Bible as if it were a Magic 8-ball; and her younger sister (Evan Rachel Wood), an underage sexpot who dreams of one day escaping to a fancy women's college. Also on hand is Neil (Joseph Fiennes), a schizophrenic whom Dr. Finch has adopted. Augusten is appalled by the squalor and horrified by Deirdre's announcement that this pink hellhole will be his home for the next few weeks. The weeks become months, Neil's interest in Augusten goes from friendly to sexually abusive, and Augusten puts up with it: Neil is the only adult who pays him any attention at all. In addition to supporting Augusten's "relationship" with Neil, Dr. Finch also helps him stage a suicide attempt as a means of avoiding school. Frustrated by the absence of boundaries and his yearning for an ordinary family, Augusten begins a journal as a means of keeping himself sane, and in the process becomes a writer. "Where would we be without our painful childhoods?" sighs Dr. Finch, whose life's work rests on adolescent trauma, but the sentiment could have come directly from Burroughs, who made lemonade — and a literary career — out of God-given lemons. Ryan Murphy's film amplifies the book's weaknesses — it's a string of bite-sized, anecdotal scenes strung together by FM radio hits of the 1970s — while also muffling its power. Understandably squeamish about the pedophiliac element to Burrough's story, Murphy casts a 20-year-old as the young Augusten and avoids mentioning just how young he's meant to be. The movie winds up becoming "The Annette Bening Show," and she's quite good: Bening makes the most of a string of mad scenes for which any actress would kill, and the real pain she brings to the part grounds the film in something real. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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