Based roughly on a true story, Running with Scissors is hard to believe. Young Augusten Burroughs, a victim of constantly fighting and bitter parents Deirdre and Norman, is sent to live with his mother's absolutely loopy psychiatrist after the "good" doctor decides that it is the best for everyone for Deirdre to be by herself for a while. Augusten is forced against his will to leave everything he knows, even as crazy as it is, to house with a strange doctor, his distant wife, and his two very unique daughters.
Take the good doctor (Brian Cox). Here's a man who has let his family and house go to waste for the sake of therapy, as he believes in free will and thought in all realms of life. His wife (Jill Clayburgh) suffers because of his insanity, yet he is the one who prescribes what insanity is. All but hunted by the IRS, the doctor finds good fortune in a miraculous shit that tells him that everything is going to be all right.
Then there's Hope (Gwenyth Paltrow). Psychotic doesn't begin to cover it. The favorite daughter of the good doctor who knows she is a favorite because he tells her so at the dinner table, she claims that she can understand cat language. One day, her cat tells her that it is dying, so she traps it in a basket for four days until it dies. She claims it dies of leukemia; everyone else knows it was a result of malnutrition from being trapped in a basket for four days.
Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) is the most normal of the family, but she too has her issues. More than anything, her love and hate are mostly bottled up inside her, and it's hard to determine what she is feeling at any one second.
And of course there's Augustun (Joseph Cross), who is quite normal other than that he never really seems to fit in. Perhaps it is because he is the only one without mental illness in the entire movie, or that he is gay and has taken on a lover nearly twice his age (Joseph Fiennes), or that his eccentric mom (Annette Bening) is a complete lunatic and a victim of a pill-popping doctor and his father (Alec Baldwin) is an alcoholic who seems to want nothing to do with him.
As you can tell, Running with Scissors is full of some strange stuff, and it is this strange stuff that is both its saving grace and its biggest disappointment. The movie was both well marketed and deceptively marketed at the same time, as the previews made Running with Scissors look hilarious in a completely off-the-wall kind of way and in reality the movie is not nearly as funny or entertaining as one would expect. Most of the funny scenes are shown in the previews, and the film, which essentially features a lot of mentally ill people in a sad way, has a lot of dark and serious stretches that make you unsure when it is acceptable to laugh. The film is extremely quirky, but if writer/director Ryan Murphy intended for this picture to be funnier than it actually is, he really missed the mark.
I am a big fan of quirky comedy-dramas, but the good ones successfully blend the genres from beginning to end. Running with Scissors flops back and forth between the two, resulting in an inconsistent, draining and shockingly slow picture. One second you'll be laughing and then the movie will slip into a long segment on mental disorder that makes you realize that maybe you shouldn't have been laughing at that character's craziness just moments before.
Somehow, the movie also feels like it is four hours long. At one point, Running with Scissors slipped into a montage that appeared to be wrapping up all the loose ends and moving toward a climax, and while my body started tingling with excitement to see the end credits, the film dragged on for another half an hour, which felt like all eternity.
Strangely enough, Murphy's direction on a scene-by-scene basis is quite good. Some of the editing is jumpy, but he captures a sense of constant mental disease quite well, and makes good use of slow motion shots, completely quiet moments and other tricks of the trade. He is good at capturing the emotion of his characters with the camera; unfortunately, his direction falls victim to his own screenplay.
Props do go to the actors, who although stuck in a rather long and meandering film, all turn in quite interesting performances. Paltrow really doesn't get much of a character to play with, but Cox, Bening and Baldwin, as always, shine. This is one of Cox's zanier performances and well worth seeing in action, and Bening certainly pulls off the insane mother bit. Baldwin, in a smaller role, continues to impress. Cross, as the main character, is also quite good, though he seems to be used more as a window to view the other characters' eccentricies rather than stand out himself.
Running with Scissors has its moments, and, on a scene-by-scene basis is quite good, but unfortunately as a package fails to deliver any kind of consistent entertainment value. Not nearly as funny as I was expected and way too long, this counts as one of my more disappointing trips to the cineplex.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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