Running with Scissors

MOTHER ISSUES Cross, left, can't believe Benning's bad choices.
MOTHER ISSUES Cross, left, can’t believe Benning’s bad choices.

Time Out says

At what point was it decided that anyone with a car-wreck childhood could become an author? The rise of the confessional memoir has subjected readers to any number of torrid, true-life tales ending in redemption (and six-figure book deals), but Augusten Burroughs’s hilarious, profane contribution was a cut above the Mary Karrs and James Freys flooding the market. Fittingly, Ryan Murphy (TV’s Nip/Tuck) has created something just as dementedly comic with the screen version, detailing each of the absurd and tragic figures with tongue firmly in tearstained cheek. There’s Dr. Finch (Cox), the Eugene Landy--like psychiatrist who studies his own bowel movements; Finch’s wild-child daughter Natalie (Wood); Augusten’s mom (Bening), a would-be poet and the world’s worst parent; and finally Augusten himself (Cross), who looks on in horror as things continually go from bad to Chernobyl.

Both the director and his cast have a gift for locating pathos in the characters’ psychobabble, especially Bening, whose deft performance offers the scariest portrayal of motherhood since Faye Dunaway admonished wire-hanger usage. But the film’s excesses come dangerously close to eclipsing its good qualities; the set design doesn’t suggest the period so much as a pathological ’70s parody, and the K-Tel soundtrack lays on the ironic aural kitsch far too thickly. The self-consciousness associated with most memoirists’ prose is present in Murphy’s moviemaking choices; nonetheless Running with Scissors does justice to Burroughs’s unusual formative years. Its shag-carpeted season in hell still makes most visions of crazy come off like a cakewalk. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.)—David Fear



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