Running With Scissors

Director: Ryan Murphy

The first line of Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina begins with the oft-quoted line, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Although set in nineteenth century Russia, Tolstoy’s sharp proclamation still remains true today and he may as well have been addressing the family depicted in Running With Scissors for, if you look up the word dysfunction in the dictionary, there should be a photo of Augusten Burroughs. Based on Burroughs's critically acclaimed memoir that was way too shocking and bizarre than any life had a right to be, Ryan Murphy’s ambitious adaptation begins successfully, relishing in its eccentric glory as a quintessential portrait of narcissistic dysfunction and mental illness in the 1970’s but unfortunately the film’s excesses wear out their welcome, making the piece a cautionary tale of the dangers of creativity run amok. Golden Globe nominee Annette Bening (denied Oscar attention in this year’s overly crowded race) portrays Augusten’s mother Deirdre Burroughs, a self-involved, mentally unstable neurotic poet with delusions of grandeur and dreams of fame and fortune. When she sees an unconventional therapist (Brian Cox), Bening impulsively decides to divorce husband Alec Baldwin and leave her teenage son (Joseph Cross) to be raised in her therapist’s household, which is already busting at the seams with patients, family and other oddballs including long-suffering wife Jill Clayburgh, prim daughter Gwyneth Paltrow, rebellious Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) and a thirty-something psychotic (a nearly unrecognizable Joseph Fiennes) who begins a sexual relationship with the young teenage boy. The stars all try hard and Evan Rachel Wood is especially mesmerizing in her small role as Natalie—given the risk and dedication this young actress has utilized since her breakthrough portrayal in Thirteen, Wood shows the same amount of promise and intelligence as Jodie Foster did in her prime. While the inventive usage of music (see selections below) are a high point as well as some moments of amazing wit and poignancy, the film itself, which begins in the same vein as thematically similar works like American Beauty and Little Miss Sunshine become an unbearably messy, freewheeling version of Girl Interrupted times ten. Although, it's worth a look for fans of the actors or devotees of Burroughs, newbies are best left sticking to the book or renting more successful attempts at eccentricity done right such as Flirting With Disaster or Igby Goes Down since both of which were made with a clearer purpose and appropriately understated level of humor as opposed to just depicting craziness for its own sake.

Soundtrack Selections from iTunes

“Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John
Elton John - Running With Scissors (Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Bennie and the Jets
“Stardust” by Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole - Running With Scissors (Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Stardust
“Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills & Nash
Crosby, Stills & Nash - Running With Scissors (Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Teach Your Children
“Quizas, Quizas, Quizas (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps)”
by Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole - Running With Scissors (Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Quizas, Quizas, Quizas (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps)
“Blinded By The Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Running With Scissors (Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Blinded By the Light
“The Things We Do For Love” by 10cc
10 cc - Running With Scissors (Motion Picture Soundtrack) - The Things We Do for Love