Friday, March 21, 2008

Film Review: Running With Scissors

"Running With Scissors" ** (out of ****)

"Running with Scissors" is based on a book written by Augusten Burroughs, which also had the same title. Supposedly the events depicted in the film are based on fact. Because Borroughs is a writer we can imagine some artistic license may have been taken. And since Burroughs' did not adapt his own work to the screen, we can also assume screenwriter Ryan Murphy, may have taken artistic license as well.

I've never read Burroughs' book. And, based on what I've seen in this film, I don't think I ever will. I have a hunch though, the book is better than the film.

"Running with Scissors" suffers from a basic cinematic problem. In an attempt to be everything at once it becomes nothing. Every character in "Running with Scissors" seems to be competing for the title "most crazy character in a motion picture". What this does is alienate the audience.

According to the film, Augusten Burroughs' (Joseph Cross) parents were in a tormented marriage. His mother, Deirdre (Annette Bening) has hopes of becoming a writer. And she does managed to get her work published in small journals. Still she feels her husband, Norman (Alec Baldwin) is jealous of her and wants to keep her at home. In this cross-fire Augusten tends to side with his mother.

Due to their domestic problems, Deirdre goes to a psychiarist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox). Finch has a very strong hold over Deirdre and eventually convinces her to leave her husband, whom according to Finch, has anger problems and may want to kill Deirdre.

This is where Augusten problems only begin to start. After the seperation, Finch even manages to talk Deirdre into giving up custody of Augusten so he can live with Finch's family. Which includes two daughters; Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) the oldest and Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) along with his wife, Agnes (Jill Clayburgh).

They are not a normal family. Some of their strange behavior includes turning to the bible for life's big questions such as what to cook for dinner, by merely opening the good book to a random page and point at a word as they try to decode the word's meaning. Or Hope, who thinks her pet cat speaks to her and tells her the day it will die.

And there is more, but at this point why continue. With the information I've given already you can kind of tell what type of film this is. It is a film without boundaries. Anything can and will happen. Nothing is considered too extreme for this story.

The problem I have with the film though is given all the little events which seem to happen, nothing really big happens. The film never really goes anywhere. Characters never fully grow. They way they are at the beginning of the film is the way they remain until the end. There is no arc. No growth within these characters. Any growth which does happen takes place off-screen as the ending credits tells us where these people are now.

The film is repetitive. The mother's problems continue over and over again. One moment she seems better than she gets worst. Than better and then worst.

Augusten is suppose to be the "normal" character in the film. The character we can relate to. He sees this madness and realizes it is not normal. The problem is, he isn't normal either. His behavior seems irrational to me too. He begins an affair with a man twice his age, who also happens to be his step-brother. Since Finch has adopted both of them.

Much of the acting in the film is fine, it has a very talented cast, but the script is weak. Potential was there, as I guess an interesting story could have been developed with these characters, but things become too extreme.

It is often said writers should write what they know. Augusten Burroughs did just that. Maybe in his case, he should stay away from what he knows and picture a more happy place. That would be more of a challenge and he could really let his imagination run wild.