Running With Scissors is based on the bestselling memoirs of Augusten Burroughs. It opens with young Augusten wondering if anyone will believe his story. Itís a good question, given the recent scandals in the memoir business where writers have been hedging bets as to whether truth is stranger than fiction. But under the guidance of writer/director Ryan Murphy, Running With Scissors is something bigger than Burroughs. Itís the story of families. And a story of the 1970s. And how those two didnít always get along.
At first Augustenís life is a fairly pedestrian tale of woe. An alcoholic father who is, at worst, distant, and at best a reliable provider of middle-class comforts. A mother who is, at worst, selfish and delusional, and at best loves the son who shares her dream of being special and famous. Even when dad suspects his son might be gay it warrants little more than bemused resignation.
Augusten Burroughs would not be the first adolescent to watch his parents go through an ugly break-up and feel abandoned. But he might be the first to be handed over to his motherís therapist for legal adoption. And not just any therapist, but Dr. Finch, who is quite possibly insane, crossing a plethora of ethical lines as a doctor, a father and a con artist. Augustenís new home is straight out of the Addams Family, with the kind of top-shelf brain twisting that makes one yearn for the simple comforts of alcoholism and selfishness. Augustenís life in this mad house becomes the core of the film, and Burroughs and director Murphy are willing to treat it as black comedy for as long as they can. Then they are obliged to make their characters face consequences, and in the soul-searching, self-actualizing, boundary challenging decade of the 1970s, it is especially crushing. From there Running With Scissors has an enervating journey to its forgone conclusion. Perhaps there was no way around it. But a truly remarkable cast makes the pill easier to swallow. Annette Benning has a terrific wrestling match with mother Deidreís self-esteem. Alec Baldwin has a much smaller role as the father, but there is no actor today doing more with less. Murphy films the arrival of Dr. Finch in homage to The Exorcist, and the awesome Brian Cox proceeds to knock the mad doctor out of the park. Joseph Fiennes gives sympathetic treatment to both sides of his bipolar character. And I still havenít gotten to the supporting roles filled by Gwyneth Paltrow, Evan Rachel Wood and Jill Clayburgh. So it is no slam on Joseph Cross, playing Augusten, to suggest his lead role was a lessor role. He just had to watch, and survive, the circus around him.
They say history is written by the victors. Itís also written by the writers. We may never know if Augusten Burroughs was entirely fair or truthful. But Running With Scissors cuts deep either way.
© 2006 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 10/4/06
Running With Scissors
U.S. - 2006