Based on the memoirs of Augusten Burroughs, "Running with Scissors" was a film that I didn't know much about and wasn't truly interested in seeing in the first place. I had caught glimpses of it here and there, but never actually took the time to sit down and watch it. Well, curiousity got the better of me. After all, any film that stars Annette Bening ("American Beauty"), Brian Cox ("Manhunter,"Zodiac"), Gwyneth Paltrow ("Se7en"), Joseph Fiennes ("Shakespeare in Love," "Enemy at the Gates"), and Alec Baldwin ("The Departed) can't be that bad. Well, folks, it can be.
The film revolves around the life of Augusten Burroughs in the 70's. As a child, he's raised by his bipolar, poet mother, Deirdre (Annette Bening) and his hard-working father (Alec Baldwin). Towards the beginning of his teenage years, Augusten (Joseph Cross) copes with his parents divorcing and then taking care of his mother, who knows she'll make it big in the poetry business someday. Deirdre begins to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), to help her with her problems. Eventually, it comes to the conclusion that she needs Augusten out of her life if she ever wants to succeed with her dreams. The solution is to hand him over to live with Dr. Finch and his family, who consist of the loving, but quirky matriarch Agnes (Jill Clayburgh), the hot-headed Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood), the spiritual Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow), and the gay, adopted son, Neil (Joseph Fiennes), who Augusten begins to have feelings for. As years pass, Augusten begins to move past supporting his own mom and learns to start having to deal with his new family.
I've never walked out of a movie in my entire life. Even if I hate what's happening on the screen and can't stand it anymore, I still stay, hoping for some good to happen. "Running with Scissors" is a film that I almost stopped, mainly because of how much I disliked it. It's about as interesting as watching paint dry while the only sound you can hear are people yelling and cursing obscenities at each other. If I had stopped watching this film, not only would I have not missed out on anything great, but I would have been better off.
The film tries to be too quirky, but then tries to be too dramatic as well. There's no balance whatsoever. There is humor in the film, but it's quite dark. For instance, a character feels that her cat is going to die. She feels that she can speak to the cat and that the cat wants to die quickly. So what does she do? She puts a laundry basket over it so it can't move and it eventually dies from lack of water and food and the filmmakers play it off as a joke. Hilarious...no, sick and twisted. I didn't laugh once in the film, well, at least, not in the right spot (more on this later). Even though the Finch family is weird, there was no real reason to laugh at the situations they got themselves into because there was no purpose for them being weird. They're just weird. The dramatic aspect of the film didn't fare any better. I didn't understand any character choices whatsoever and no relationships were developed well enough to make me care about them. Again, the Finch family didn't feel like a family unit, but just a group of individuals living under the same roof. The film tried to be a drama with comedic bits, but it failed in that regard.
Before I begin this part of the review, I want to say that the acting is fairly good in the film and not terrible by any means. The main problem with the entire film is the characters, who are so poorly written, that it's criminal. Annette Bening's character was the worst of the bunch, which is unfortunate, because she's a great actress in the first place ("American Beauty" rules). If there's ever been a person I've wanted to slap in a film, it would be her character. Everytime she appeared on screen, I wanted to skip past it. The character is one-dimensional throughout the entire film. She's either angry, depressed, or drugged and that's it. I had no idea why Augusten still wanted to be with her, which made me care less about the story. Natalie, the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed daughter of Dr. Finch, also suffers from bad writing. She's annoying and complains about wanting to go to college, but talks about how she doesn't have money and other reasons hinder her. If we wanted to fall in love with her character, give her some drive and determination. Anyone can complain and moan about their situation. Big deal. Get over it and move on (this would be a good tagline for the film). Then, she tries to make the audience pity her in one scene and all I could do was laugh. And that laugh was the only one that came from me while I watched the entire film. I could go on and on about how much I loathed most (if not all) of the characters, but I don't want to waste that much more time on the film.
Another issue I had with the film was the profanity. Now, I can handle large portions of bad language only if it serves the story and the situations that the characters have to deal with, but in "Running with Scissors" it just felt so overdone and unnecessary. It became mind-numbing and tedious after awhile that I wished I could just gag all of the actors' mouths. I don't know if the filmmakers were aiming for humor at those points, but they just came off as being dirty and not needed at all.
The only reason I actually continued watching the film was Jill Clayburgh, the actress who played Agnes. As the mother of the household, she tries to keep everything together and everyone happy. Agnes is the most sympathetic character of the bunch and when she would get sad or angry, I felt that emotion due to the great acting by Clayburgh. In a film filled with unlikeable characters, I truly loved Clayburgh's performance and felt that it belonged in a better film. The final scene of the film with her and Joseph Cross was the best part of the film (not saying much), because of the character and the actress who portrayed her.
Overall, "Running with Scissors" is not a good nor enjoyable film at all. It's not a comedy nor a drama either. The characters are terribly written and unlikeable and the story as a whole doesn't work well either. The only person that comes out of the rubble unscathed is Jill Clayburgh, who turns in a fine performance. Besides that, there's nothing great to write home about. I really wish I had just turned it off in the first place.