REVIEW: Running With Scissors

The worst thing about child abuse, aside from the abuse itself, is that it’s one of those crimes that tends to create a cycle: Abuse victims will often group up with damaged psyches which will lead them to commit abuse against others, and so-on and so-fourth, essentially just bringing more and more abuse into the world. Augusten Burroughs, for example, endured an excruciatingly abusive childhood which he then turned into a bestselling memoir called “Running With Scissors,” which has now been made into a film of the same name, which is right now abusing the HELL out of anyone who makes the mistake of seeing one of this year’s crappiest movies.

Plotwise, the story plays out like nothing so much as some kind of campy PSA warning against the dangers of permissive parenting. Augusten is being raised by an exasperated alcoholic father (Alec Baldwin) and a psychotic mother (Annette Benning.) Mom is the bigger of the two problems, a clearly unbalanced lunatic obsessed with Anne Sexton who fancies herself a world-class poetess in the making, under the constant delusion that her husband, men in general, society, the world etc. are conspiring to “oppress her creativity.” Nuttiness leads to divorce, which leads to psychotropic drugs, which leads (evnetually) to Augusten being shipped off via adoption to mom’s gonzo psychiatrist Dr. Finch (Brian Cox) and his eccentric (as in “Addams Family” level) family.

I’m at a loss to explain how something this bad get’s made. It’s not as though I’m naive enough to expect great or even decent films to regularly be made from poor-me “recovery” memoirs, the whole shebang reaks of Starbucks and Oprah before you even know what exactly it is, after all. But the sheer level of misfire on display here is staggering. How does this happen? Was it directed by various apes? Did the writers get to the part where Augusten comes out as gay and decide that meant they should play the whole thing as Jon Waters-wannabe camp?

The casting of the otherwise talented Joseph Cross as Burroughs is a disaster. He’s supposed to be playing this character as a 13 year-old, but so clearly resembles an adult as to completely neuter what ought to be part of the story’s central “ick”-factor, Augusten’s obsessive relationship with a pederast (Joseph Feinnes, channeling Christopher Lambert for some reason.) His performance otherwise is decent, but he’s stuck as the “lead” in a film that’s more concerned with it’s cast of eccentrics than with it’s actual star.

Ironically, the film forgoes most of it’s focus on Augusten to focus on his mother, Deidre. Ironic because the film SEEMS to understand that this psychopath’s delusions of stardom are what destroyed her and those around her, but dives headlong into turning her into the main feature of the film. Yes, Mrs. Benning, we get it. You play self-obsessed bitches better than anyone in Hollywood. Good for you. Now, let’s try doing it in a good movie.

There is one scene in the film that serves to define the entire experience: That would be the moment where Dr. Finch calls the family into the bathroom to look at his morning bowel movement, literally insisting that this shit MEANS something!

No, it doesn’t.


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