- Running with Scissors (2006) movie review: Ryan Murphy’s big-screen version of Augusten Burroughs’ memoirs is a dramatic mess. As a mentally unstable mom, Annette Bening is the only cast member who succeeds in delivering a well-rounded characterization.
Running with Scissors movie review: Annette Bening delivers a memorable performance in muddled coming-of-age dramedy
Problems abound in writer-director-coproducer Ryan Murphy’s movie version of Augusten Burroughs’ 2002 book of memoirs Running with Scissors.
Those range from the film’s cartoonish humor and meandering storyline to an unappealing lead character and fuzzily sketched secondary ones.
The only element that prevents Running with Scissors from being a complete failure is a generally solid supporting cast headed by an outstanding Annette Bening.
More-painful-than-usual growing pains
Growing up isn’t easy, we all know that.
But in the case of Running with Scissors’ adolescent antihero Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross), things are particularly difficult: His father (Alec Baldwin) is a raging alcoholic and his mother (Annette Bening) is a poet wannabe who seems to suffer from bipolar disorder – all the while believing that hubby is set on killing her and their son.
For his mental (and, one assumes, physical) safety, Augusten is taken away from his potentially dangerous home and placed in another teeming with weirdos: A psychotic psychiatrist (Brian Cox), his listless wife (Jill Clayburgh), a religious freak (Gwyneth Paltrow), a punkish rebel (Evan Rachel Wood).
But no worries. Augusten finds love (and sex) with a handsome man (Joseph Fiennes) who, as it happens, is about twice his age. The downside: As it also happens, the more mature object of the teenager’s affection/lust is emotionally unbalanced.
Does this all sound like a recipe for a great cinematic character study?
Well, yes, but unfortunately there are issues with both the ingredients and the mixing.
For starters, whether or not also a problem with the source material, Running with Scissors never weaves its various plot elements and character arcs into a cohesive whole.
Not helping matters is how filmmaker Ryan Murphy (best known as the creator of the FX hit show Nip/Tuck) and actor Joseph Cross have envisioned the young Augusten, who comes across as an effete type overflowing with self-pity – hardly qualities that evoke sympathy.
Jill Clayburgh & Annette Bening
And although Running with Scissors’ supporting cast is generally capable, all but one of the performers are kept constrained by their poorly delineated characters.
It’s a curious – but not necessarily satisfying – experience to watch Shakespeare in Love stars Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow bring to life radically different characters from those they had played in the popular Oscar winner, while it’s downright frustrating to see one of the greatest film actresses of the late 20th century, An Unmarried Woman and La Luna star Jill Clayburgh, be given so little to chew on.
Running with Scissors’ sole thespian exception is Annette Bening, who manages to transcend the limitations of her role as the unstable poetess who is much too self-absorbed (and much too medicated) to raise a son – a character at times reminiscent of her ambitious, off-kilter family woman in Sam Mendes’ American Beauty.
If only Running with Scissors had revolved around her.
Running with Scissors (2006)
Director: Ryan Murphy.
Screenplay: Ryan Murphy.
From Augusten Burroughs’ 2002 book.
Cast: Annette Bening. Joseph Cross. Evan Rachel Wood. Joseph Fiennes. Jill Clayburgh. Gwyneth Paltrow. Alec Baldwin. Brian Cox. Patrick Wilson. Gabrielle Union. Kristin Chenoweth. Colleen Camp. Dagmara Dominczyk.
Cameo: Augusten Burroughs.
“Running with Scissors Movie” endnotes
Joseph Cross and Annette Bening Running with Scissors image: TriStar Pictures | Sony Pictures.
“Running with Scissors Movie: First-Rate Bening in Messy Coming-of-Age Dramedy” last updated in September 2021.