Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Running with Scissors

Movie name: Running with Scissors
Year of release: 2006
Director: Ryan Murphy
Stars: Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Cross, Alec Baldwin, Evan Rachel Wood, Jill Clayburgh, Joseph Fiennes, Gabrielle Union, Patrick Wilson, Kristin Chenoweth
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Ryan Murphy’s “Running with Scissors” is an adaptation of Augusten Burroughs memoir, that despite the brilliance of it’s cast and some insightful moments, ends up feeling short on the premises that it presented.

Running with Scissors is the first major film from Ryan Murphy, writer/creator of the celebrated TV Show “Nip/Tuck”. The film is an adaptation of the memoir with the same name by Augusten Burroughs (born Christopher Burroughs), who has been already discarded by some of the members involved in the story as overly imaginative and quite incorrect in the depiction of what really happened (the real events, if that’s a way to understand it).
The film follows the life of Augusten Burroughs, since the late 60’s. We are introduced to the Burroughs household, strongly dominated by the mother Deirdre and where the father, Norman, ends up being an absent presence. Deirdre has pretensions of an artistic life and treats the young Augusten as a young adult, which makes him develop a strong personality by the time he’s in his teen years. As part of the process of finding her inner voice (and cast away the male oppression, represented by Norman), Deirdre places Augusten under the care of the bizarre and eccentric family of her therapist, Dr. Finch. The Finches are a quirky ensemble, starting with the matriarch, Agnes, who eats dog biscuits, the oldest daughter Hope, an eternal spinster and morbidly focused on her cat and Natalie, a precocious and rebellious young woman. As for Dr. Finch, he is a personality onto himself – a mix of easy psychiatric solutions and plain wackiness.
As Augusten grows in these households, he tries to find his place in the world, and simultaneously make choices that will put him on the path he wants to lead.
Ryan Murphy managed to snag on his first film an impressive cast, which makes the most of what the screenplay allows. The film is filled with great moments, however it ends up failing when it should present a stronger dramatic arch which happens on some occasions. The wonderful Joseph Cross, tries to show Augusten as someone desperate to find some sense of normalcy, however the film never really shows his connection to any characters. For a central character, who supposedly has an enlightening epiphany, his sense of self awareness is never fully explored. All the characters in the film are presented as adrift – deeply disturbed, all looking for their sense of belonging, for their way to escape their own existence. The dynamics between the characters, which are after all the main core of the film, are at some points incredibly frustrating, mostly because you feel so much more could’ve been explored.
As far as the actors are concerned, Annette Bening does a good job with Deirdre – though some have compared this performance with the one she gave in Sam Mendes’ “American Beauty”, this is more of a performance with the Oscar stamp all over it. She plays the “crazy “, overmedicated mother – her performance really shines at the end of the film, when behind the “mask” she wore, the true Deirdre emerges and shows her son just how insecure and fragile she really is. Gwyneth Paltrow as Hope and Joseph Fiennes as Bookman are also remarkable in their small compositions – theirs are characters deeply disturbed in their own isolation. Joseph Fiennes as Augusten’s boyfriend, ends up making an unforgettable character – his Bookman though deeply disturbed is still looking for a future, for a way out of his own self destructive existence. Evan Rachel Wood, Jill Clayburgh and Alec Baldwin all have good performances, in a film that ultimately is interesting, but that promises a lot more than it delivers. “Running with Scissors” is a film that juggles a dramatic premise with a sense of humor, which helps keep the rhythm going – the scenes at the Finch household are amusing but light – Annette Bening’s character ultimately is the one that brings the edge to this project. Even though with it’s limitations, this is nonetheless a film worth watching.