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

by Eric Melin on October 26, 2006

in Print Reviews

“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.

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

Cross and Bening see reviews for this film

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.)

What we are left with 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. If that sounds difficult to pull off, it is. After moving in with his mother’s eccentric psychiatrist Dr. Finch (a hilarious Brian Cox), Augusten basically becomes a cipher. This is not always the best thing for a movie to do. 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 not have much to do except sit and stare.

Although “bible-dipping” favorite daughter Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) is woefully underwritten, the rest of the family is not. 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 Neil Bookman (Joseph Fiennes), a 33 year-old schizophrenic, his mother and doctor surprisingly approve. Tricky stuff.

The soothing sounds of Mantovani & Santa Claus

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 in nature, the actors themselves do not act cartoonishly, setting just the right tone. As ridiculous as it seems, the cast does not overplay the comedy too much.

All of the insane things that happen to him are played out as a reflection of Augusten 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. “Running with Scissors” the movie is a disturbing and hilarious look back at a crazy decade that will never be repeated again.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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