Running with Scissors (2006) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for strong language, sexuality, violence, and substance abuse
Running Time: 116  min.

Cast: Joseph Cross, Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Joseph Fiennes, Jill Clayburgh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gabrielle Union, Patrick Wilson, Kristin Chenoweth
Director: Ryan Murphy
Screenplay: Ryan Murphy (based on the book, "Running wih Scissors: A Memoir", by Augusten Burroughs)
Review published December 4, 2006

A big screen treatment on Augusten Burroughs' semi-autobiographical memoir about his tumultuous childhood growing up with an oddball mother, Deirdre (Benning, Mrs. Harris), who sends him to live with her highly unorthodox psychiatrist, Dr, Finch (Cox, Red Eye), whose home environment proves to be even more strange than the one he was being sheltered from.  At the old home, his constantly-bickering parents separate after Deirdre comes out as a lesbian and gets hooked on her prescribed medication.  In the new home, Augusten (Cross, Homecoming) comes out as gay, gets into an affair with Finch's adopted son, Bookman (Fiennes, The Great Raid), all the while seeking some way to escape his stifling life under the roof filled with people barely hanging on to their own sanity.

As adapted and directed by Ryan Murphy ("Nip/Tuck") , Running with Scissors is a film without an emotional anchor.  It is a series of scenes of oddball behavior, full of eccentric characters and strange occurrences, but lacking a thematic resonance and ability to connect with its audience that is crucial in order to derive some form of identification and meaning to it all.  It's a confusing experience, as the only character in the film we might be able to feel some sympathy with is the long-suffering father, Norman, except that the character is bland and underwritten to the point where he barely registers.  Murphy's concentration is to give us more and more outlandish characterizations and sensationalized events, eventually culminating with but one lesson in life: childhood is a screwed-up time when you're surrounded by crazy, self-absorbed, and manipulative adults.

In the end, Murphy's film plays like The Royal Tenenbaums if the characters were replaced by those in "The Addams Family", although Tenenbaums did this sort of material infinitely deeper, while "Addams" did it funnier.  Running with Scissors features good performances all around, particularly by Bening and Cox, but the film itself, which should have been engrossing and enriching, is disjointed, disconcerting, and dislikable.  Without sympathy, without empathy, and without identification, this is a self-serving tale about a self-righteous man who grew up around self-absorbed people.  Your ability to relate is greatly dependent on how much of your own self you see in it, but with characters this kooky and one-dimensional, it's hard to imagine anyone relating to this except on completely tangential levels.  Running with Scissors is a film about the act of potential self harm, where a viewer's self-identity and self-enjoyment go hand in hand.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo