Sunday, October 29, 2006

Movie Review: Running with Scissors

Before any of you even get the chance... the book is better. The book is always better, don't you people know that by now. A novelist can take all the time he or she wants to craft the story in the manner they want. The filmmaker, however, has to get the idea across in between 90 and 180 minutes.

Ryan Murphy does a wonderful job in his big screen version of the Augusten Burroughs memoir. The production value of this film almost outshines it's writing and acting. I found it interesting to watch, as well as funny and provocative.

There are a number of standout performances that bring both Murphy's and Burroughs' genius to life. Both Jack Kaeding (young) and Joseph Cross (teenaged) are spot on as Burroughs. Their seemingly placid portrayal of a young man surrounded by craziness and madness is not unlike a bird sitting calmly on a dock in the midst of a great storm.

The interaction between Cross and the "adults" in his life are at times riotous and at others heartbreaking. Annett Benning simply put does her finest work to date as Augusten's bipolar and underachieving writer of a mother. There are times when you see how important Augusten is to her, and then there are times when you wonder if she is on the brink of unfettered madness. Alec Baldwin is quite the opposite as Augusten's alcoholic father Norman. In his later years, Baldwin has really turned into one of the best actors in the land, and he stood out in this flick even though he didn't have a ton of screen time. The real Augusten Burroughs is planning a new book about the relationship between he and his father. If they ever make it into a movie, they should get Baldwin on the phone.

Where this movie really takes off is in the scenes involving the teenaged Burroughs and his adopted family: The Finch's. Brian Cox takes the roll of Dr. Finch to it's rightful place as the most mad of all the people in Augusten's life. When he summons the family to see the miracle that is his morning shit, it was hard to stay in my seat. Then, when he has his wife, Agnes, (expertly played by Jill Claybaugh) fetch a shoehorn so the turd can be extracted and dried in the sun; you see that the inmates don't need to run this asylum, because it is already run by a crazy person.

Not everyone totally fails Augusten. Agnes ends up being a mother figure to him, and he has connections with Natalie Finch (Evan Rachel Wood) as well. In the time allotted, I think Ryan Murphy was able to tell a truly American story, albeit not the full story that Burroughs is able to tell in his book. Still, as a stand alone work of art, this movie is superb. And in the end, you just might end up feeling that your family is not all that fucked up after all.


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