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Running With Scissors skewers psychiatry, genres, but loses focus
Running With Scissors skewers psychiatry, genres, but loses focus

By Lorelei Quenzer, A&E Writer

Running With Scissors
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Starring Joseph Cross, Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Evan Rachel Wood, Joseph Fiennes, Jill Clayburgh, Gwyneth Paltrow
Opens today

Annette Bening has perfected the art of crazy. Is it living with Warren? It's as if Bening has taken the narcissism that made Carolyn Burnham such a bitch (1999's American Beauty), and upped the dial to eleven. Deirdre Burroughs is, at the beginning of Running with Scissors, borderline paranoid schizophrenic, at odds with her alcoholic husband, Norman (Alec Baldwin), who she suspects of trying to stifle her creativity – she claims she's destined to be a great writer – and then of literally trying to stifle her. To death. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox, "Deadwood," Troy) suggests daily 5-hour marriage counseling sessions. Norman balks and Deirdre accuses him of being self-involved. Kettle, meet pot…

Caught between the warring Mr. and Mrs. Burroughs is 14-year-old Augusten (Joseph Cross, Flags of Our Fathers, Strangers With Candy), who bears the brunt of his mother's flights of fancy. Deirdre, unable to cope with the reality of divorce, ultimately places Augusten under her psychiatrist's care, not as a patient but as an adoptee. Dr. Finch's family is easily as neurotic as Augusten's: the dowdy Mrs. Finch (Jill Clayburgh) eats dog kibble while watching her household literally disintegrate under piles of garbage; his acknowledged "favorite daughter" Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a psychiatry sycophant; and young Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood, Thirteen) is primed to explode in bursts of mascara-laden angst. A house full of women? Sounds like a healthy environment for motherless Augusten. Not.

Augusten does come Out while living with the Finches, but it's more because he's trying to impress his new siblings than because of the doctor's quality of care. Natalie plays matchmaker, introducing Augusten to her adopted brother Neil (Joseph Fiennes), who lives across town and takes more prescription drugs than Charles Manson to curb the dark, lethal voices in his head. They hook up (sigh, this is strictly PG), and for a while Augusten's life brightens. Meanwhile, Dr. Finch is still treating Deirdre, whose ups and downs precisely match the good doctor's numerous prescriptions. I doubt Dr. Kevorkian would have advised this much medication.

Boy, I want to like this film. Really, I do. The cast is great. There are some very moving moments, as well as a lot of funny lines. The soundtrack took me straight back to junior high. But I constantly found myself glancing at my watch, and it wasn't because of the ginormous coffee I drank that morning. Well, not only because of. But Running With Scissors is too disjointed. It's difficult to keep up with its pacing; it seems schizophrenic, and not in a good way. At first the film tries to paint a portrait of a quirky but charming dysfunctional family. Then itslips into the uncomfortable territory of divorce, of the screaming and throwing knives ilk. Think The Royal Tenenbaums meets The Squid and the Whale with less funny. Both Fiennes' and Bening's characters add elements of danger that belong in psychological dramas, and the movie tries to end its life as a docudrama, wrapped up with a neat, feel-good bow. I'm in favor of busting genres, but Running is awkward and feels more like a movie of the week than the subject matter deserves. It's a disappointment as a film, but at least it made me want to read the book.


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