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Running With Scissors
2.5/5
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Ryan Murphy
with Annette Bening, Joseph Cross, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alec Baldwin, Jill Clayburgh, Gabrielle Union, Kristin Chenoweth, Patrick Wilson, Jack Kaeding
release US 20.Oct.06,
UK 2.Feb.07
06/US TriStar 1h56

"I wanna be special and I wanna be famous": Cross and Bening

cox fiennes wood

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Running With Scissors Strong performances and lively characters keep this jumbled movie entertaining, although we can really feel writer-director Murphy straining for both wacky hilarity and touching emotion. And never quite getting there.

Augusten Burroughs (Cross) is a teen who has a lot to cope with. His diva mother (Bening) is so angry at his drunken father (Baldwin) that she's losing her mind. When she starts seeing psychologist Dr Finch (Cox), Augusten is sucked into the Finches pathologically quirky life alongside beatnik gay son Neil (Fiennes), trampy Natalie (Wood), oddball Hope (Paltrow) and ignored mother Agnes (Clayburgh). And Neil can barely stand it. He wants his life to get dull and more routine, not completely insane.

Under the rambling, chaotic structure, this is a strikingly tender tale of a boy and his mother, anchored by a remarkable performance by Bening. But it's impossible to escape the fact that the story, based on Burroughs' memoir, is a series of complaints about his childhood. Everyone around him was a true eccentric, and rather than celebrate the diversity and texture, he chooses to whinge.

Despite the excellent dialog and terrifically layered performances, the film never grabs us. It's virtually impossible to feel any sympathy for these self-obsessed characters (although Clayburgh's Agnes is a notable exception). So the film fails in its frequent attempts to stir the heartstrings as each character sheds tears of frustration and pain. Similarly, while there are moments of hysterical silliness, the actual comedy in the story and characters falls completely flat. Murphy (Nip/Tuck) clearly wants this to be a jagged black comedy, but zany antics and eccentricities can't achieve this on their own.

Murphy proves himself adept as a writer and at directing actors, but he fumbles the story. The film never achieves a proper rhythm, lurching from scene to scene and filling the screen with so much anarchy that nothing sticks. Frequent musical montages don't help, although at least the 1970s song score is sublime. In the end there's a lovely observation on the subtle ways we oppress the people we love. As the doctor says, "Where would we be without our painful childhoods?"

cert 15 themes, language, some violence 23.Nov.06

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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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