National Library of New Zealand
Harvested by the National Library of New Zealand on: Oct 11 2008 at 17:51:33 GMT
Search boxes and external links may not function. Having trouble viewing this page? Click here
Close Minimize Help
Wayback Machine
GayNZ Logo & Link
Sunday 12 October 2008

Running with Scissors

Posted in: Movies
By Larry Jenkins - 7th March 2007

Running with Scissors
Director: Ryan Murphy
Starring: Annette Benning, Alex Baldwin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jill Clayburgh, Joseph Fiennes.
Based on the personal memoirs of gay author Augusten Burroughs

When I read Augusten Burroughs's memoir “Running with Scissors” it never occurred to me to laugh. I found it seriously disturbing, whether most of it is true or not, that any young boy could be subjected to so relentlessly nightmarish a “childhood” without any hope of salvation. I say ‘whether most of it is true or not' on account of always feeling that a lot of what I was reading needed large doses of salt, but even if Burroughs had only half the searing experiences he records because of his seriously psychotic mother, it's a miracle he survived.

Ryan Murphy seems to have decided that if you don't laugh at this story, you'll cry. Well, I didn't shed a tear, but the cast of “Running with Scissors” could have floated the QM2 out of Auckland harbour on her recent visit with theirs. Someone is always crying in this movie, and I think that is why it doesn't work. All of them are too preoccupied with their own angst to notice any pain but their own, least of all that of a barely pubescent teenage boy whose already-miserable life is fast becoming hell.

Nobody in the audience produces anything louder than a chuckle, though, so Murphy's black comedic take falls as flat and lifeless as Jill Clayburgh's hair. Clayburgh, in a stellar cast, gives a great performance as Agnes Finch. Annette Bening as the psychotic mum is almost a metaphor for self-centred, malicious, deluded and paranoid motherhood and as such is the only believable character in the film. Employing an enviable range of facial tics and a manufactured hysteria which never lets up, she dominates the film as much as her character dominates her son, played to sweet perfection by Joseph Cross.

Brian Cox, as the enigmatic Dr. Finch, has a tough job. No one is supposed to ever decide whether or not he is a quack or a genius, and he certainly keeps the answer close to his manly chest. The real comedy act in the film is Gwyneth Paltrow, whose po-faced and sycophantic elder daughter is quite amusing in a kind of Lily Munsterish way.

In the end, though, one is left admiring acting talent. Alec Baldwin, as the father driven to vodka by the unpredictability of his home life; Joseph Fiennes, playing a 30-something schizoid gay loser who becomes the lover of the 13-year old Cross and runs out on him two years later; the already lauded Clayburgh and of course Ms Bening, whose presence in any film is a promise of theatrical fireworks to beat the band – all are superb. With such a story and such a cast, it's difficult to understand why this isn't a great experience, but it simply isn't.

Larry Jenkins - 7th March 2007