Running With Scissors. Starring Annette Bening, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Cross, Brian Cox, Alec Baldwin and Joseph Fiennes. Directed by Ryan Murphy. 116 mins. Rated MA 15+. website
In 2002 Augusten Burroghs published his autobiography, Running with Scissors: A Memoir. It purports to tell the story of his very disturbed childhood.
Augusten (Cross) is born into a highly dysfunctional family where his father (Baldwin) is an alcoholic and his mother, Deidre, (Bening) is a mediocre poet with great ambition and a mental illness. She is soon to be a barbiturate addict as well.
When her life and marriage fall apart, Deidre sends Augustine to live with Dr Finch (Cox), her psychiatrist. The Finch house is a case-study in how the mad can take over the asylum. There is the controlling patriarch, the repressed mother, an obsessive compulsive sister, another sister is a typically angry adolescent, and the adopted son is a predatory homosexual and a psychotic.
With his mother coming and going from the house and his life, Augustine has to find his way to adulthood.
This very dark tale will appeal to only a few, but a review here is warranted because others may be attracted by the star-studded cast. True to their calibre, the acting is sometimes fine indeed, but they all work so hard on such a bleak story which goes nowhere.
Running With Scissors feels like walking through a human zoo where we observe the insane antics of one caged character after another.
The only redeeming feature of this tale of abusive dysfunction is that Augustine survived it, and wrote it up. Or so he claims. The authenticity of the story behind the book is now contested, and the film opens with the disconcerting line that, "no one will believe it, but it happened." Maybe. But even as a fictional story it makes for disturbing cinema and questionable entertainment.