Augusten Burroughs’ account of his ’70s adolescence, acclaimed on the page, makes an awkward transition to celluloid. It’s quite a true-life story, as teenage protagonist (Joseph Cross) is abandoned by his mother (Annette Bening), whose literary ambitions are unmatched by any poetic talent, and left in the care of her shrink (Brian Cox) in a tumbledown mansion where he and the doc’s long-suffering family (neurotic daughters Gwyneth Paltrow and Evan Rachel Wood, down-trodden spouse Jill Clayburgh) fend for themselves. No shortage of juicy material then, but the film turns it into a parade of shrill psychological peccadilloes, with little breathing space between one bizarre set-piece and the next. It’s not hard to surmise writer-producer-director Murphy’s background in television; the whole thing’s played for those with short attention spans.
What a shame for the cast. Bening’s work as the over-medicated ‘Me Generation’ casualty is outstanding, but it’s rendered academic by the film’s failure to generate much emotional rapport. Cox is spot-on as the brittle charlatan of a therapist, while Alec Baldwin’s contribution as Augusten’s boozy befuddled dad is heart-breaking. If ever a movie needed a strong vision, this is it. All that promise, exasperatingly unfulfilled.