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Running With Scissors

Drama movie directed by Ryan Murphy

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Absolutely terrible, but what else is to be expected from Ryan Murphy anyways?

  • Aug 17, 2012
* out of ****

At the age of twelve, Augusten Burroughs found himself the sole child in the middle of a rough marriage. His father (Alec Baldwin) - an alcoholic - and his mother Deidre (Annette Bening) - a psychotic - fought constantly and eventually their kitchen-bound warfare of both the physical and emotional variety got so intense that Burroughs' mother sent him to live with her psychiatrist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox); a good doctor, according to Deidre. The Finch house is populated by the doctor, his daughters, and his wife, who eats dog food directly from the rough paper bag while watching "Dark Shadows". This is the story of Augusten's adolescent years spent in this crazy house with these crazy people and those crazy thoughts that go through your head when you're of that age. It also concerns Augusten's realization of his sexuality; as well as his relationship with the adopted son of Dr. Finch, Neil Bookman (Joseph Fiennes), who is several decades older than Augusten.

That was the plot of the 2002 memoir "Running with Scissors", written by Augusten Burroughs himself, that was eventually revealed by its author to be a mixture of fact and fiction. Regardless of what was true and what wasn't, I read the shit out of the book and enjoyed it immensely; what carries it is Burroughs' gift for highly descriptive language/choice of words, and the story actually drew you in emotionally with a blend of humor and melancholy. Think what you will, I thought it was pretty darn good. Augusten has gone on to write many more pseudo-memoires, and I'm sure a lot of them are just as good, if not better (or worse, since you know, that's a possibility). I only question him in his ability to tell the complete truth and admit it if he isn't.

I said that the basic synopsis I provided was the plot of Burroughs' pseudo-memoir because it isn't really the plot of Ryan Murphy's 2007 film adaptation. Murphy closes in specifically on the relationship between Burroughs and his schizo mom and disregards most of the themes regarding Burroughs' sexuality or the traumatic effects that the doctor's profession might have on his children. Quite a bit from the book made it to the movie, but being faithful to a source novel means more than just locking in the images and situations and bringing them to the screen. In this case, it would also mean the manipulation of the difficult yet undeniably honest emotions that flowed through the pages of Burroughs' memoir; and that's precisely where this adaption is sorely lacking. You can tell it's a train-wreck going nowhere within the first ten minutes. It's almost skit-like in its presentation with nothing to sew it all together.

I didn't feel that the point of Burroughs' novel was to point out the eccentricities of the Finch family. There are characters, like the hopeless Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) - who does a terrible thing to the family cat out of delusion - and the "other daughter" Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood), who is decidedly more of a rebel than her sister, who offered insight into Augusten's story in the book, yet here they merely...exist, or something. It would have been cool if they had elaborated on the relationships shared between Augusten and each supporting character individually, but I felt as if the film cared more about treating them all as a whole. And you see; that just doesn't work out. I'm convinced by this film alone that Burroughs' literary works should never be adapted for the screen again, since some authors' stories are meant to exist in the medium that they were originally made for. Some books are like that; and I knew from the beginning that "Running with Scissors" was one of those books that was going to be awkwardly translated for film if it was translated at all. It doesn't just feel compressed, like a lot of adaptations do. This is just bad filmmaking.

It's been a while since a film legitimately pissed me off as this one did, but there you have it. I don't usually read a book before seeing a movie but I must admit, it's become somewhat of a habit lately and I intend to continue following up on the "habit". As someone who took the time to read the "memoir", I find this movie particularly discouraging. It feels as if everyone involved didn't actually READ the book before exploring these territories. This is not the story that Burroughs wrote. This is some dull, predictable, stupid, PG-13 caliber Hollywood version of it. It's supposed to be both funny and sad, just like the book, but I think I laughed once (in a scene where Bening's character takes a valium with mediocre 70's pop music playing in the background) and I know for a fact I didn't cry. You could have given me the benefit of including the gay sex scenes from the novel. At least then I could stare at this film with some dark, morbid sense of amusement. Instead I just feel dead and gone. Murphy and company should be ashamed.

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More Running With Scissors reviews
review by . July 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
15 - 116mins - Comedy/Drama - 2nd February 2007    Strange one this. Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) was born into a dysfunctional family. With his father (Alec Baldwin) an alcoholic and a mentally unstable mother (Annette Bening) who lives in a delusional world where her belief that she has what it takes to become the world's greatest poet is only surpassed by her attempts to achieve her goal, it's unsurprising to find that his life has been impacted greatly from a young age.   …
review by . April 22, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
...they'll seem like the poster children for mental and emotional health, after watching this film!      Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) grows up in a household with his mother, Deirdre (Annette Benning), who has severe mental stability issues. I am no psychiatrist so I am not even going to try to label her. He also has an alcoholic father, Norman (Alec Baldwin), who seems to have little to no interest in his son. In fact, because of his absence, I thought at the beginning …
review by . February 08, 2007
For those legions of us who delighted in Augusten Burroughs' sharing of his exceedingly warped childhood in the memoir RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, this book to film transformation will be revelatory and extremely satisfying. Until watching the DVD (not expecting a book of this nature could be successfully molded into a film, much less be a platform for Annette Bening to garner Golden Globe accolades for a role like Deirdre), it is impossible to believe that such a fine book could and is an even better …
review by . April 15, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Like others, I decided to see "Running With Scissors" based on a trailer I saw that presented it as a dark, eccentric comedy. The cast looked more than promising, and I love quirky movies, but I shut this one off after watching an hour of venom-filled yelling and swearing. It's very unusual for me to not watch a film in its entirety, but I felt I was completely wasting my time and turned it off. I didn't like any of the characters, although I felt some degree of sympathy for the boy (not enough …
review by . February 22, 2007
"Running With Scissors"    A Twisted Childhood      Amos Lassen and Cinema Pride    "Running With Scissors" has been a greatly anticipated movie due to the success of the book and it doesn't disappoint. It is a fairly sick and twisted story of a young boy who is caught up in the mental abuse, drug use and mental illness in his family. Because it is a true story, it is sometimes not easy to watch but it is the story of survival …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Annette Bening is the stand-out highlight in this dysfunctional "family" comedy based on the bestselling memoir by Augusten Burroughs. Although fans of the book may be slightly disappointed with the film's uneven and somewhat campy rendition of Burroughs' twisted adolescence in the 1970s, there's plenty of pleasure to be found in the work of an excellent cast led by Bening, who gives a subtle dare-to-hate-me performance as Burroughs' mother Diedre, a would-be poet who's so aloof about her teenage son Augusten (played by fresh-faced newcomer Joseph Cross, fromFlags of Our Fathers) that she allows him to be legally adopted into the eccentric family of her psychiatrist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox). As the half-crazed Finch overmedicates Diedre into a haze of semi-conscious madness, he also turns Augusten's life upside down while his wife (Jill Clayburgh) and daughters (Gwyneth Paltrow, Evan Rachel Wood) indulge their own eccentricities and Augusten enters into an intimate relationship with one of Finch's adopted patients (played by Joseph Fiennes).

As adapted and directed by Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy, Running with Scissors lacks the singular voice of Burroughs' dryly comedic first-person narrative, but even as the film struggles to find a consistent tone, it's so full of wacky behavior that you can't help laughing. It's a messy, patchwork quilt of a movie, blessed by authentically garish '70s production design and a soundtrack of familiar '70s hits. In ...

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Director: Ryan Murphy
Genre: Drama
DVD Release Date: February 6, 2007
Runtime: 116 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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