October 29, 2006

MOVIES: Running With Scissors (Ryan Murphy, 2006)

This is based on the "memoir" by Augusten Burroughs; I put the word in quotes because Burroughs has acknowledged that there are fictionalized storylines and characters in his books.

This installment of Burroughs' "memoir" focuses on his teen years, during which his parents separated; his mother, struggling with her own increasing mental and emotional instability, arranged for her therapist to become Augusten's legal guardian. Dr. Finch and his family can be described, if one is in a charitable mood, as lovable eccentrics, and Murphy presents Augusten's story as a sort of updated You Can't Take It With You, with Augusten meant to be the island of sanity around which the zaniness swirls.

The problem is that the Finches aren't lovable eccentrics -- they're flat-out lunatics, every one of them -- and since Augusten himself isn't the most mentally stable kid in town (understandable, given his upbringing), we're left with nothing to do for two hours but watch a group of insane people perform ridiculous, nonsensical, deranged acts at random. There's no one normal enough to serve as our entryway into the story, and nothing happens that makes enough sense for us to grab on to.

The movie comes closest to reality in its portrayal of Augusten's mother, occasionally even acknowledging that there are serious health consequences to mental illness. Annette Bening rips into the role of Deirdre with everything she's got, and her scenes with Joseph Cross (as Augusten) are the best in the movie. Other actors have nice moments -- Jill Clayburgh as Mrs. Finch has a lovely scene at the end of the movie -- but they're only moments, and not part of a coherent whole; each character behaves in such a random fashion that there's no sense that the actor is even playing the same character from scene to scene. The Agnes Finch we see on that bus bench at the end of the movie, for instance, has nothing to do with the Agnes Finch we see eating dog food earlier in the movie.

This is an absolute disaster, two hours of chaos pretending to be a coherent story.

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