Running with Scissors
Nip/Tuck writer/executive producer Ryan Murphy does a very fine job of cutting/pasting onto the big screen the horrific and hilarious teenage memoir of journalist Augusten Burroughs. Abandoned first by his alcoholic father Norman (Alec Baldwin) and then by his domineering mother Deirdre (Annette Bening), the young, gay Burroughs (Joseph Cross) is adopted by mom’s psychiatrist Dr Finch (Brian Cox) and the oddball family the patriarch lords over: meek wife Agnes (Jill Clayburgh), rebel daughter Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood), dippy daughter Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) and surrogate psycho son Neil Bookman (Joseph Fiennes). It’s a period of domestic dysfunction that would drive any normal person insane, and that’s exactly what aspect of Burroughs’ book Murphy has embraced, which makes for an enormously enjoyable black comedy of eccentric manners.
With its eccentric characters, deeply dysfunctional family relations and kitsch 70s retro styling, this oddball comedy very much resembles the films of Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums in particular, in which Paltrow also appears) and the more recent The Squid and the Whale (made by sometime Anderson collaborator Noah Baumbach). Running With Scissors is a pleasing addition to those tales of absent fathers and kids suffering from arrested development, but the film has much to recommend of its own. The performances are across the board spot on, particularly Bening and Clayburgh, who represent a kind of yin and yang of motherhood. And it’s the focus on Burroughs’ bittersweet relationship with his real mom and then trauma free one with the woman who becomes his surrogate mom with which the film sets its own agenda.