'Running with Scissors' movie review: Annette Bening shines in muddled coming-of-age tale
Problems abound in Ryan Murphy's movie version of Augusten Burroughs' 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 this muddled comedy-drama from becoming a complete failure is a generally solid supporting cast headed by an outstanding Annette Bening.
Growing up isn't easy, we all know that. But as Running with Scissors' adolescent antihero Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) will tell you, things can get particularly difficult when your father (Alec Baldwin) is a raging alcoholic and your mother (Annette Bening) is a poet wannabe clearly suffering from bipolar disorder – all the while believing that her husband is out to do both her and you in. Or when, for your mental (and possibly physical) safety, you're taken away from home and placed in a house filled with bizarre characters: a deranged psychiatrist (Brian Cox), a religious freak (Gwyneth Paltrow), a punkish rebel (Evan Rachel Wood), a lifeless elderly woman (Jill Clayburgh).
Add to that your becoming sexually and romantically involved with a mentally unstable handsome man more than twice your age (Joseph Fiennes) and you get a recipe for a fantastic character study.
'Running with Scissors' lacks cohesive role
Unfortunately, Running with Scissors never weave its various characters' arcs and plot elements into a cohesive whole. Not helping matters is director-screenwriter Ryan Murphy and actor Joseph Cross' Augusten Burroughs, who comes across as an effete teenager overflowing with self-pity. Those are hardly personal qualities to elicit empathy, at least from this viewer.
And although Running with Scissors' supporting cast is generally fine, all but one of the actors' remain stuck inside their poorly delineated characters. And that's why seeing one of the greatest film actresses of the late 20th century, Jill Clayburgh (An Unmarried Woman, La Luna), with so little to do or say feels like quite a letdown. Watching Shakespeare in Love's Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow bringing to life radically different characters is a curious experience, but of Running with Scissors' stellar cast only Annette Bening, in a role at times reminiscent of her ambitious wife and mother in American Beauty, truly manages to transcend the limitations of her role as the poetess too immature and self-absorbed to raise a son.
Running with Scissors (2006). Dir.: Ryan Murphy. Scr.: Ryan Murphy; from Augusten Burroughs' book. Cast: Annette Bening, Joseph Cross, Evan Rachel Wood, Joseph Fiennes, Jill Clayburgh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alec Baldwin, Brian Cox, Gabrielle Union, Patrick Wilson, Kristin Chenoweth, Colleen Camp, Dagmara Dominczyk, Jack Kaeding, Will Carter.
Joseph Cross and Annette Bening Running with Scissors photo: TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures.