‘Scissors’ stumbles, stabs itself in the foot

Robert Taylor

Joseph Cross and Evan Rachel Woods try hard but can’t save the mess that is Running With Scissors. PHOTO COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES

Credit: Jason Hall

Running With Scissors is one utter mess of a movie. Here is a film with so many quality cast and crew members all giving their all, but the results is a disconnected wreck that doesn’t know if it’s a comedy or a drama.

The movie is based on Augusten Burroughs’ memoir, in the film he’s portrayed by Joseph Cross, of the same title and recounts the story of his possibly insane mother, alcoholic father and the psychiatric family that adopts him and might be crazier than their patients.

Let’s talk about what the film gets right first, and that is the cast. With a cast that includes Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Evan Rachel Woods, Cross, Alec Baldwin, Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow, the sometimes-horrendous writing and staging is elevated by having these actors interpret it. Bening is phenomenal as Augusten’s pill-popping mother, and deserves an Oscar nomination for her work, as do Wood and Jill Clayburgh.

It’s too bad that the film they inhabit is so scattershot. The viewer never quite knows if any given scene is supposed to be played as comedy or drama.

Certain scenes are hilarious until characters begin bawling about their circumstances, and unfunny scenes have long pauses and non-endings that are edited as if they are waiting for laughs from the audience that don’t come. Other scenes are tense and frightening until one of the characters mentions his bowel movement. Annoying voice-overs by Augusten do nothing to help matters.

None of the characters have a real arc to follow. In the book almost every character had a journey to follow and grew, but in the film no one does. Bening remains crazy as ever at any point during the movie, as does Augusten’s psychotic boyfriend, and the constant threat of the IRS never materializes.

Characters disappear with hardly any explanation (not even from a voice-over) and Augusten is never given the chance to mature as a character, so when he makes an important decision about his life later in the film, it makes no sense.

One thing the film does get right is the world Augusten inhabits. The house he lives in is absolutely breathtaking in its detail and dimension. When a scene gets boring (which, honestly, happened quite often), you can always investigate the very corners of the frame for great little details.

Perhaps Running With Scissors can never successfully be translated to film. It’s too biting and painful, yet hilarious. The right balance is never reached in this film, and though it tries hard, it stumbles and stabs itself in the eye too many times.

Contact ALL correspondent Robert Taylor at [email protected].

Running With Scissors

Written and Directed by Ryan Murphy

Starring Joseph Cross, Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Woods, Alec Baldwin and Gwyneth Paltrow

Distributed by TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures

Stater rating (out of five): ??