~Running With Scissors
JOSEPH CROSS and ANNETTE BENNING in RUNNING WITH SCISSORS
November 7, 2006 by JAN ALBERT
IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD:
RUNNING WITH SCISSORS is a cinematic ode to childhood that falls somewhere
between I Remember Mama and Mommie Dearest.
This is the perfect film for anyone who thinks they come from the most dysfunctional family
in the world. It will make you laugh a lot and realize that you don’t even come close.
Augusten Burroughs, whose crazy mother gave him away to her even crazier psychotherapist
to raise, holds that title. He survived his completely wacked out childhood to write a
best selling memoir that has now been turned into a movie.
RUNNING WITH SCISSORS is a first film for director Ryan Murphy, who
created the TV series, Nip/Tuck, which certainly sees the blend of humor and
pathos in the frenzied way we edit our lives and bodies and present them to the world.
Murphy and his set and costume designers (Richard Sherman and Lou Eyrich) have a blast
recreating the 1970’s fashions, rooms and scenes that surround young Augusten. It is pure
eye candy, beautifully rendered, from the platform shoes to the consciousness raising
sessions Augusten’s mother leads in their living room. Annette Benning really rises to
the occasion as a woman whose delusions of grandeur are at first hysterically funny,
then gradually become seriously disturbing and scary. If only the movie had followed
her extremely brave performance, it would have been a classic. As it is, it skims
the surface for the humor in the situation.
The supporting characters, brought to life by a perfect cast, all have their moments,
including Brian Cox as the quack doctor who offers to take Augusten off his mom’s hands
(so she can devote her complete energy to her analysis), Jill Clayburgh as his distracted
wife, and Evan Rachel Wood as Augusten’s closest friend, despite the fact that she tries
to use him as an electro-shock therapy experiment. Still, Joseph Fiennes is my personal
favorite. He’s come along way from Shakespeare in Love (in which he played
the besotted bard) to play the leather-wearing, 35-year-old “adopted” son of this strange
family who steals Augusten’s virginity at the age of 14. Fiennes somehow manages to
make the viewer care about this crazy cad and he delivers a poetry reading that I assure
you is worth the price of admission alone.
Joseph Cross portrays Augusten as a wry observer to the sideshow that
is his life rather than a participant, and maybe in fact that’s how he survived, by distancing
himself and pretending this was all happening to a character who merely shared his name.
Many kids in crazy families grow up fast because they must become parent to their own
parents, if you know what I mean. But as a movie viewer, after giggling with disbelief
at the series of unbelievable disasters Augusten endures, I wanted to dig in and pull
with him to escape and thrive, rather than experiencing it second hand. The film doesn’t
ultimately provide that kind of catharsis, but there’s a happy ending and it does send
you home smiling at the stangeness and resilience of human beings.