Running With Scissors reminded me a lot of Terry Gilliam’s Tideland in that it’s about a group of mostly repulsive characters and how they collectively abuse a child, and how it’s supposed to be funny and/or uplifting and meaningful. I blame The Simpsons – they’ve so moved the goal post when it comes to dysfunctional families that people like Augusten Burroughs have to write memoirs like Running With Scissors just to get noticed.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying Burroughs pulled a James Frey with his book, which I have not read but which has been turned into this tedious and unpleasant movie. I’m just saying that I don’t believe most of what happened in this movie ever happened in real life. And if it did, the movie offers me no compelling reason to give a shit about it. Maybe the book is different and Burroughs’ voice is enough to turn a squalid story about filthy, marginally retarded-seeming drug addicts, perverts, blowhards and other “out there” bores into something glorious. God knows every outer borough secretary I saw on the subway thought so when the thing came out in paperback. If so, writer/director Ryan Murphy is completely unable to translate that voice to the screen.
Young Augusten grows up with Alec Baldwin as a father (probably bad for him, very good for the audience. Baldwin is the king of small roles) who hates Annette Bening, playing Augusten’s crazy poet cunt of a mother. Yes, she’s a cunt. An awful, oozing cunt. I don’t know what Annette Bening is like in real life, but if she is not a cunt, give her an Oscar, since I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so perfectly essay a self-centered and annoying cunt as she does in this film. I wanted to murder her every frame she was on film.
The mother gets mixed up with an equally insane shrink who has a masturbatorium in his office. When the masturbatorium was introduced I felt like the movie was really trying hard, but Brian Cox played the shrink, so I was willing to give it some more time. I shouldn’t have – Running With Scissors was only beginning to hint at how hard it could try with this scene. Bening ends up dumping young Augusten with Brian Cox and his batshit insane family who live in a house that could very well be called Ramshackle Manor or Exaggerated Southern Gothic Hellhole. Jill Clayburgh, uglied up to the point where you can tell she’s familiar but maybe not quite recognize her, is the Doctor’s suffering wife, who munches on dog biscuits while watching Dark Shadows. Evan Rachel Wood is the very chompable slut daughter who latches on to Augusten. Gwyneth Paltrow appears to have done two or three days work as the Bible-toting daughter who hears her cat talking to her and starves it to death. Etc., etc., etc. At one point Cox wakes everybody up to look at his shit, which is sticking out of the bowl and obviously a sign from God. Oh my crazy!
Meanwhile it turns out that Augusten is gay, so Evan Rachel Wood hooks him up with the guy who used to live in their back yard, a drug addicted schizophrenic twice Augusten’s age. Ah, romance. Joseph Fiennes plays this role with a bad mustache, and I was feeling really bad for him, because I think he’s a better actor than this – until this scene where everyone has a breakdown and there’s a montage to some fucking song and Fiennes is screaming in the rain and then I just wanted to kick him in the face for even agreeing to a script that had a scene like that in it. Really – a montage of characters reaching emotional breaking points and having cathartic meltdowns, set to Year of the Cat? Fuck you.
Fuck you, Ryan Murphy, mainly because you’re better than this movie. I’ve really enjoyed Nip/Tuck, a show where you manage to take some awful characters who do ridiculous things and just brush your toe against the going too far/trying too hard line. That line gets passed so early in Running With Scissors that the whole film starts to feel like an autistic kid rattling off the bluest Howard Stern routines he can remember. It’s funny at first but quickly just becomes annoying and then you start really hating autistic people in general.
Running With Scissors is a freak show, not a movie. And it’s a tedious freak show, as Annette Bening’s character keeps reappearing to get crazier and crazier, or at least do the kinds of over the top scenes that make for good Oscar clips. When Augusten decides to run away to New York City to make it as a guy who writes memoirs about what creepy fucktards he used to live with, you’re wondering why he couldn’t have come to this decision an hour and a half earlier. Instead he had to deal with his mom going in and out of psychotic states, poetry groups and lesbian affairs with Kristen Chenoweth and Gabrielle Union, which is much less sexy than it sounds (which is especially disappointing coming from the guy behind Nip/Tuck, by the way, a show that really pushes the sexual boundaries of basic cable).
I don’t know if I’ve been able to get across to you the fact that I really hated this movie, but just in case my gentle verbiage hid my true intent, let me plainly state that Running With Scissors sucks.