Urban Cinefile
"They gave me the script, which I read and didn't respond to; I didn't want to do it. It was that simple. "  -Keanu Reeves on Speed 2
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Growing up in the 1970s, young Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) lives in the middle of a shouting match between his alcoholic father Neil (Alec Baldwin) and an unstable, self-centred mother, Deirdre (Annette Bening), who has delusions of herself as a soon-to-be-famous poet. She has little time for Augusten, who is desperate for her attention - and for a life full of shiny things, plus his own hair salon empire. When his parents finally divorce, Augusten's mother sends him to live with Dr Finch (Brian Cox), her wildly unorthodox psychiatrist and his eccentric family; wife Agnes (Jill Clayburgh), the uptight daughter Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) and wild child Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood). They are all almost as wacky as his mother ....

Review by Louise Keller:
Best selling author Augusten Burroughs' memoir makes for riveting reading, and the adaptation of his bizarre and often shocking childhood is as dark as the subject matter. Recounted with honesty and filled with dry humour, Running With Scissors is a gripping drama about a nightmare of a childhood that plays out like a mix of comedy and tragedy. For every aspect that is depressing, there something that is fresh and uplifting, and it is credit to writer director Ryan Murphy for capturing the mood of Burroughs' book so faithfully.

The centre of young Augusten's world (as sensitively played by Joseph Cross) is his highly strung, delusional mother Deirdre (Annette Bening), whose unstable mental state leads her into the care of dubiously qualified analyst Dr Finch (Brian Cox). Bening devours the role, exposing her every emotion. The poetry she writes is her catharsis, as she eagerly tries to unblock her creative constipation. 'Your mother was meant to be a very famous woman,' she tells her son, as she practices her delivery. After an ugly marriage breakdown, she succumbs to Dr Finch's whims. Valium for her, and a new family (his) for Augusten.

Augusten reels from incredulity as he is sucked into his new life. The characters around him are eccentric or crazy, depending on your point of view. The doctor's masturbation room has a photo of the queen on the wall; daughter Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) follows the bible-inspired voices in her head; daughter Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) likes to play with electro shock therapy; wife Mrs Finch (Jill Clayburgh, memorable) nibbles dog biscuits in a house of clutter and confusion. Joseph Fiennes is almost unrecognizable as the manic schizophrenic Neil, with whom Augusten has his first gay encounter

Stunning performances take us deep into this sharp and jagged world. The reality is dense and the characters credible. Running With Scissors is a powerful, multi layered film that arrests us at every turn.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you've read Augusten Burroughs' memoir, you'll be pleased to see the splendidly chaotic atmosphere of the Finch household captured on screen, and some of the book's most memorable scenes (and dialogue) also intact. But what's perhaps more important is that the characters we meet along the way are realised as credible - if crazy - human beings. Joseph Cross nails Augusten's mixture of needy and smart teenager, whose sexuality seems almost inconsequential amidst the chaos around him. Burroughs voice is further enhanced by short sequences of narration.

Annette Bening is wonderful as the train wreck of a mother, fusing a sense of humanity to her unbalanced behaviour to give her dimension and credibility. Brain Cox steps into Dr Finch with a well balanced sense of gravitas and unexpected quirkiness. He even manages to reads his own turds as messages from God without disturbing his credibility.

Both daughters - opposites in every way - are delivered with gusto, and Joseph Fiennes gives us a complex characterisation of the schizophrenic Neil Bookman, the older man with whom young Burroughs has an affair. Jill Clayburgh is outstanding as Agnes, the strange Mrs Finch who seems forever on the edge of a breakdown but who turns out to be the one that understands Augusten best and becomes his most genuine friend and supporter.

It's not easy to adapt a book with such eccentric characters and crazy incidents for the screen, where the people might seem like grotesque freaks being manipulated in wild scenes by a filmmaker out to shock. Ryan Murphy gets the tone just right, and makes us willing witnesses to the crumbling coterie around Augusten, who recognises he must take flight to make a palatable life for himself. But at least his early years gave him plenty of material for the books he so dearly wanted to write. His mother is no doubt jealous.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 2006)

CAST: Joseph Cross, Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Gwyneth Paltrow, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Jill Clayburgh, Joseph Fiennes, Gabrielle Union, Kristin Chenoweth

PRODUCER: Dede Gardner, Brad Grey, Matt Kennedy, Ryan Murphy, Brad Pitt

DIRECTOR: Ryan Murphy

SCRIPT: Ryan Murphy (autobiography by Augusten Burroughs)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christopher Baffa

EDITOR: Byron Smith

MUSIC: James S. Levine


RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes



Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020