Running With Scissors
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interviews with Augusten Burroughs, cast and director.
A STARRY ensemble cast doesn’t always make for a good film. Hence, just as the combined talents of Anthony Hopkins, Sean Penn, Kate Winslet and Jude Law couldn’t save All The King’s Men from becoming a bore, so the likes of Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Alec Baldwin and Gwyneth Paltrow cannot save Running With Scissors from becoming an excruciating experience.
Adapted from Augusten Burroughs’ traumatic memoirs, Ryan (Nip/Tuck) Murphy’s film is a gruelling affair that ultimately fails to deliver any end reward.
It’s over-populated by hideous characters, stuggles with an uneven tone and emerges as a completely deflating experience.
The film follows the teenage fortunes of Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) as he struggles to cope with a neurotic, self-obsessed mother (Bening) and a distant, alcoholic father (Baldwin).
Packed off to a therapist named Dr Finch (Brian Cox), Augusten is subsequently ‘adopted’ by the psychiatrist into his liberated family and spends most of his formative years attempting to make sense of the oddball characters and difficult situations that populate his strange existence.
These include Finch’s troubled daughters (Paltrow and Evan Rachel Wood), a schizophrenic fellow-resident (Joseph Fiennes) and his long-suffering wife (Jill Claybourgh).
In book form, Running With Scissors became a best-seller because of its darkly humourous blend of coming-of-age tribulation and eccentric characters – much of which appears to be lost on screen.
The film struggles to cope with the burden of injecting humour into subject matter as confrontational as mental illness, neglect, alcoholism, drug addiction and statutory rape.
And it also feels too much like an extended form of on-screen therapy that the audience has no real empathy or connection with.
There’s also a certain amount of laziness in the casting, no matter how good several of the performances are.
Bening, in particular, is a past master at playing things neurotic or self-centred and her mother-from-hell feels like an uncomfortable combination of previous roles in American Beauty and Being Julia.
Paltrow is also on auto-pilot as the eccentric, distant eldest daughter (see The Royal Tenenbaums), as is Wood as her sex-obsessed sibling (think Thirteen, Down In The Valley etc, etc).
Cross does OK in the lead role of Augusten but struggles to stand out as he should, while the likes of Baldwin and Fiennes are good but under-used (the former, especially, is heartbreaking in the limited screen time his character is allowed).
Cox appears to be having a ball as the eccentric Dr Finch but it’s Claybourgh who steals the show by somehow managing to ensure the final scenes have a poignancy they don’t always deserve.
But given the number of far better dysfunctional family movies that have come before it (from The Royal Tenenbaums right through to Little Miss Sunshine), Running With Scissors fails to cut it as anything worth caring about.
Given the combined talents of everyone concerned, the disappointment is all the more greater.
Running time: 2hrs 2mins