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  Publicity Stills of "Running With Scissors"
(Courtesy from Columbia TriStar)

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Director: Ryan Murphy
Cast: Annette Bening, Joseph Cross, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jill Clayburgh, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin
RunTime: 1 hr 56 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: M18

Opening Day: 8 Feb 2007 (Exclusively at Cathay Cineplex)

Synopsis :

"Running with Scissors" is the hilarious and poignant feature film based on the personal memoirs of Augusten Burroughs. Growing up in the 1970's, young Augusten (Joseph Cross) was living a middle-class existence with an alcoholic father (Alec Baldwin) and a bipolar mother (Annette Bening), an unpublished poet with delusions of becoming famous. When his parents divorce, Augusten's mother sends him to live with her wildly unorthodox psychiatrist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox) and his eccentric extended family. "Running with Scissors" chronicles Augusten's survival under the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Movie Review:

Teeming with impossible characters and unreal situations, it’s an understatement to say “Running With Scissors” was strange. It was so strange it bordered on discomfort, and where so many Hollywood forays into the theme of the dysfunctional family have endeared and amused (think: Wes Anderson’s excellent “The Royal Tenenbaums”), this movie unfortunately took off, derailed and crashed.

Principally about Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross), the movie follows him as a child dealing with his parents’ nasty relationship, then later as a fourteen-year-old dealing with his mother Dierdre’s (Annette Benning) deteriorating mental health as her divorce is being finalized. Around this time Dierdre begins sessions with her psychiatrist Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), whose shady financial status compels him to move his practice to his junkyard of a home. Confined for hours on end at Dr. Finch’s ghastly house while his mother is on consultation, Augusten befriends the doctor’s daughter, Natalie Finch (Evan Rachel Wood); the two bond but go no further – Augusten is gay.

Other passing characters include the other Finch daughter Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow), who scans the Bible for life guidance, the Finch son Neil (Joseph Fiennes), who is confusing and menacing to his family and audiences alike. Dr. Finch’s wife Agnes (Jill Clayburgh) is the designated emotional anchor but the unpolished writing renders her character not so much subtle as flat; the relationship Augusten supposedly develops with her is hardly affecting in the end. The only plausible connection is between Augusten and Natalie, who are kindred spirits as a result of their common normalcy.

The promising cast largely disappoints, with the exception of Evan Rachel Wood who effortlessly commands every scene she’s in with a vulnerable and spunky performance – she’s easily the movie’s only respite. Annette Benning’s character is increasingly grating and tedious; Dierdre’s mental illness hardly affects sympathy as it comes across self-involved. Gwynath Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes leave little impression; Brian Cox and Jill Clayburgh are so boxed in by their limited characters that they become caricatures. In a movie that could have been substantially boosted by convincing acting, the cost of such distant performances is great.

The screenplay may well have derived from a biographical memoir but the uninspired direction, writing and casting combine to make “Running With Scissors” so incredibly far-fetched that it’s out of reach. It’s quite simply impossible to believe, much less empathise, with characters who, towards the end of the movie, are seriously examining stool samples for prophetic signs. In general the comedy is sputtering and inconsistent, culminating in desperate attempts at outlandish humour that are distasteful enough to offend. By the time the stool sample bit ended it seemed the movie had exhausted all its resources and was well on its way to obscurity, as though acknowledging in defeat the impossible task of making such an unlikely story plausible.

Given more adept direction, especially in the art department, a tighter screenplay and a better eye for what could have worked and what wouldn’t, “Running With Scissors” might have been better than it is. Sadly it isn’t, and the result is an empty and disappointing movie that’s uncomfortable with its own strangeness.

Movie Rating:

(A poorly executed movie that stalled and never went beyond the first fifteen minutes)

Review by Angeline Chui

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