Movie review: 'Running With Scissors'

Robert W. Butler
The Kansas City Star

"Running With Scissors" starts out bursting with promise. A seriously mental woman. Her adoring little boy. A psychiatrist crazier than any of his patients. An eccentric-filled funhouse.

Based on Augusten Burroughs' best-selling memoir of growing up dysfunctional, this film promises black comedy, outrageous affrontery and sizzling satire.

And for about 20 minutes it delivers.

After that the movie sinks into a quirky rut and wears out its welcome. It's one thing to give us a cast of major talents playing bizzarro characters. But a movie needs a plot, a dramatic spine, a sense that the characters are growing and changing.

The unhappy inhabitants of "Running With Scissors," though, might as well be frozen in amber. They keep repeating the same crazed scenarios, over and over and over.

Young Augusten (played as a child by the impossibly angelic Jack Kaeding) adores his mother Dierdre (Annette Bening). To him she's beautiful and glamorous and talented. He's an eager audience as she recites stanzas from her self-published book, "A Poet's Struggle."

In fact, Dierdre is seriously demented, convinced of her artistic greatness and devoted to coddling Augusten and making life miserable for her long suffering, quietly inebriated husband (an empathetic Alec Baldwin). At the same time she's miserably unhappy, which is why she's a regular of Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), a goateed shrink whose advice is almost guaranteed to be just the opposite of what the situation requires.

"Get the rage on the page, woman!" he barks at his artistically blocked patient.

Dierdre sends Augusten to live with Dr. Cox's family in a pink columned mansion that's falling apart and littered with junk. It's a little like "You Can't Take It with You" as performed by the residents of a psych ward.

Mrs. Cox (Jill Clayburgh) is a drab housewife addicted to the soap opera "Dark Shadows," which she watches while scarfing handfuls of dog kibble.

The oldest Cox daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a prissy snob who claims she can communicate with cats. The younger one, Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) is a destructive rebel and sexually aggressive, not that it means much to the teenage Augusten (now played by Joseph Cross), who is gay. And then there's the doctor's thirtysomething son, Neil (Joseph Fiennes), a directionless head case.

Since the Crosses have a tendency to pick up strays, it's hard to say which of these are their genetic offspring and which simply fell into their orbit and have been unable to break free. They're all messed up.

I haven't read Burroughs' memoir, but I gather it was a fascinating blend of the hilarious and the harrowing. This film version by Ryan Murphy (creator of TV's "Nip/Tuck") never goes anywhere and after a while its sameness becomes deadening.



2 stars

Director: Ryan Murphy

Cast: Joseph Cross, Brian Cox, Annette Bening, Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Evan Rachel Hunter

Rated: R for strong language and elements of sexuality, violence and substance abuse.

Running time: 2:01





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