'70s attitude runs amok in funny, unfocused 'Running with Scissors'

"Running with Scissors" is a preposterously over-the-top and funny satire of the '70s. Written and directed by "Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy, it is essentially a tale of the "me" decade run amok, with the open attitudes of the hippie generation exploding in a fractured mess all over the nuclear family unit.

When 13-year-old Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) is abandoned by his pill-popping bipolar mother (Annette Bening) and goes to live at the loony Finch household, absurdity piles upon absurdity, encapsulating the best and worst of the decade.

The problem for a lot of people? The whole thing is supposed to be true.

For a moment, let's pretend that Murphy's movie and(by extension) Burroughs' best-selling memoir are works of fiction. That way, we can throw away all the arguments about exaggeration or things being just plain made up and focus on the movie as a movie. (The Turcotte family from Massachusetts has filed suit against the author and the book's publisher for that very reason, although they have settled with Sony Pictures.)

Stripped of the baggage of reality, the movie is a very funny, if unfocused, farcical comedy that approaches serious subjects like pedophilia, mental illness, alcoholism, spousal abuse, homosexuality and suicide with a light comic touch.

After moving in with the his mother's eccentric psychiatrist Dr. Finch (a hilarious Brian Cox), Augusten basically becomes a cipher. For example, when Mrs. Finch (Jill Clayburgh) is snacking on puppy kibble and watching TV while a 6-year-old named Poo does just that on the living room carpet, Augusten does little save sit and stare.

With the exception of Gwyneth Paltrow's character-the "Bible-dipping," favorite daughter Hope , which is woefully underwritten-the entire family is thoroughly explored. Augusten becomes best friends with Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood), the youngest Finch, and they form a bond over some very similar and creepy sexual encounters that they have both had. When Augusten, who suspects he is gay, gets involved in a sexual relationship with a 33-year-old schizophrenic (Joseph Fiennes), his mother and doctor surprisingly approve. Tricky stuff.

Movie

Running With Scissors ** 1/2

thumbnail

"Running with Scissors" is a preposterously over-the-top and funny satire of the 1970s. Written and directed by "Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy, it is essentially a tale of the "me" decade run amok, with the open attitudes of the hippie generation exploding in a fractured mess all over the nuclear family unit.

Find showtimes

The performances are all top-notch, especially Cox, Bening and Fiennes, who would all receive Oscar nods had their roles been straight dramatic ones. Despite the actions of the characters being cartoonish, the cast does not overact the comedy .

All of the insane things that happen to Augusten are played out as a reflection of him as an adult, looking back. Trying moments are always funnier when one remembers them, so taking a nostalgic attitude towards his life takes the edge off of the awfulness of it all, enabling us to laugh.

In the opening narration, Augusten says "No one is going to believe me anyway." Who cares if they do? Get Oprah to humiliate Burroughs on daytime TV if you want revenge for his half-truths and exaggerations. On its merits as a movie alone, "Running with Scissors" is a disturbing and hilarious look back at life amid a crazy decade.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.