Running with Scissors
February 2, 2007
Running with Scissors (2006) is the latest entry in the dysfunctional, eccentric family genre alongside the likes of recent additions, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Family Stone (2005). It’s a genre that allows actors to grunge themselves down, adopt odd accents and behaviour, and wear strange clothes – basically, disappear into characters wildly different from the norm, allowing them to indulge in all kinds of showy acting tics.
Set in the 1970s, Augusten Burroughs (Cross) has always had a close relationship with his mother (Bening) who dreams of becoming a famous writer while his father (Baldwin) is a busy teacher and an alcoholic who never seems to have time for his son. Augusten’s parents are deeply unhappy people and as he grows older, he sees them fight more and more with the intensity increasing. All he wants is to be part of a normal family. He and his parents start seeing a therapist by the name of Dr. Finch (Cox) who, at their first session, asks for a plate of baloney and asks Augusten’s mother about her bowel movements. The good doctor is more than a little messed up himself, telling Augusten and his mother in an absurdly matter-of-fact way about a room adjacent to his office where he masturbates.
After his folks split up, his mother sends him to live with Dr. Finch and his family while she focuses on her “art.” She has delusions of grandeur and Augusten sees how the countless rejection notices she receives from the likes of The New Yorker, et al devastate her. Annette Bening does a great job conveying her bitter resentment and how she projects it on others. She delivers a moving performance as her character gradually gets worse mentally as she becomes totally dependent on prescription drugs. It’s a curious arc as she starts off messed up, gets better and then becomes messed up again, escaping into her own mind. Bening is fearless and emotionally raw in this role. She has become something of an underrated actress in recent years but has been quietly amassing an impressive resume ever since her memorable breakthrough performance in The Grifters (1990).
The outside of the Finch house looks like the landscaping was done by a hurricane. The inside isn’t much better as his dowdy wife (Clayburgh) eats kibble and watches Dark Shadows on television. Natalie (Wood) wears suggestive clothing and bonds with Augusten over her father’s electro-shock therapy machine. Hope (Paltrow) is the prim and proper daughter who gets into analytical arguments with Natalie and has conversations with her cat through its purring. Augusten meets and bonds with the adopted son, Neil (Fiennes) over a Lina Wertmuller film festival at a local movie theatre where they confess to each other that they are gay. Fiennes delivers a fierce performance and the film comes wonderfully to life whenever he’s on-screen. An even more interesting movie would have focused on his character and his myriad of problems.
Running with Scissors has to be one of the oddest coming-of-age stories ever put on film, shifting effortlessly between absurd humour and uncomfortable drama reminiscent of films from the 1970s, like Brewster McCloud (1970) and Harold and Maude (1971). Based on this film, writer/director Ryan Murphy would be the ideal candidate to do a proper adaptation of Richard Farina’s oddball college novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me as he captures the same kind of surreal landscape with no “normal” characters for the audience to identify with. In this film’s case, Augusten would be the only semi-normal character and our entry point into a world populated by strange, messed-up people. Running with Scissors’ unpredictable tone constantly keeps the viewer off balance, wondering what bizarre thing will happen next. I don’t know if I can say I liked this movie but I’m glad I saw it.
“Inside Outsiders” features the cast talking about the complexities of their characters and how none of them are good or evil – there are elements of both in these people and that is what drew them to these characters. They all speak quite eloquently in this enjoyable extra.
“A Personal Memoir by Augusten Burroughs” features the real Augusten who talks about his unhappy childhood and how he is still amazed that he survived it. He also talks about the struggle he went through writing his book and how he never wanted to option it into a film until he met Ryan Murphy.
“Creating the Cuckoo’s Nest” takes a look at how they recreated the period detail and the Finch House from Burroughs’ book. They didn’t want to copy other eccentric family households, like the Addams Family and wanted to bury every room in textures and make it almost another character.