Based on Augusten Burroughsï¿½ popular biographical memoir of the same name, Running With Scissors is a dark, comedic tale of surviving a bizarre and painful childhood.
The film covers Augustenï¿½s life mostly from about age 12 to 16. Part of what makes this film intriguing is that itï¿½s so outlandish that viewers can hardly anticipate events before they happen, so I will attempt to avoid spoiling it all in this review. With that in mind, hereï¿½s my very high-level plot summary: Augustenï¿½s parentsï¿½ relatio…ship is at best antagonistic. His mother, Deirdre (Annette Bening), is bipolar and becomes worse as the film progresses. His father, Norman (Alec Baldwin), is an alcoholic. The marriage crumbles very early in the film, which leads to Augusten becoming intimately acquainted with his motherï¿½s therapist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), and Finchï¿½s family.
Thatï¿½s it for detail, except to say that the course Augustenï¿½s life takes in this film is truly bizarre, and the people he interacts with range from damaged to outright crazy. On paper, this would appear to be a completely horrible childhood, and would raise great anger toward the so-called adults who impacted this boyï¿½s life. However, the manner in which the film presents Augustenï¿½s story dampens that perspective and adds an element of sympathy. Through Augustenï¿½s own narration, the style of production design and the sheer extremity of the characters ï¿½ whether theyï¿½re accurate portrayals or not ï¿½ the film takes on an almost fairytale feel. Also of dampening effect is the fact that the film seems to be a more polished version of the book, which reportedly includes graphic descriptions of some of the darker and crazier aspects of the story, whereas the film shows only whatï¿½s necessary.
Unfortunately, what the film lacks is any sort of comment or conclusion about the madness. With the narration by Augusten, it would have been nice to hear him reflect back with judgment on the pain and emotional scarring he suffered at the hands of these ï¿½familyï¿½ members. Instead, his message here is ï¿½hey, my childhood was seriously messed up ï¿½ but I survived.ï¿½ Thatï¿½s not much for viewers to chew on.
With such a dynamic range of characters, I must address the cast. Running With Scissors is packed with fine performances, but the crown jewel is Annette Bening (American Beauty) as Augustenï¿½s mom. Bening received a Golden Globe nod for this role, which she undeservedly lost to Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada). Bening creates a mother both condemnable and sympathetic, and her character arc serves as a baseline for the other characters. Along with Beningï¿½s Oscar-worthy turn, we have strong performances by Joseph Cross in his first major film role as Augusten, Brian Cox (The Bourne Supremacy) as the eccentric Dr. Finch and Joseph Fiennes (The Merchant of Venice) as troubled pedophile Neil Bookman. Really, I could go on, as the entire cast brought their A-game to this film, but for brevityï¿½s sake just expect a well-acted movie.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of the film is its soundtrack. It includes music from the period (70ï¿½s), and several times I found myself surprised and pleased at the choices made and which scenes the songs accompanied.
In the end, Running With Scissors is a shallow telling of story filled with extreme dynamics. Itï¿½s at times hilarious, disturbing, sad and hopeful. Your own reaction will determine the ratio of those attributes, so just be prepared for the unexpected.
So the film is unique and brimming with fine acting. Howï¿½s the DVD?
Running With Scissors is presented on one disc, in 2.40:1 widescreen format. It looks really good. The picture is sharp and clear for the most part, with rich colours. There are no discernable compression issues.
The menus are animated, and scored.
English audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and it sounds fine for what is mostly a dialogue-driven film. All dialogue, music and effects are clear.
Audio is also offered in French and Portuguese in Dolby Digital 5.1, while subtitles are available in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean and Portuguese.
Running With Scissors goes quality-over-quantity with its bonus material, with the most glaring omission being the lack of an audio commentary. Hereï¿½s what we get:
- Inside Outsiders: about eight minutes on the characters. Here the actors discuss their roles, with the highlight being Beningï¿½s thoughts on mother Dierdre.
- A Personal Memoir by Augusten Burroughs: is short at about five minutes, but offers interesting insight into the authorï¿½s background, and why he chose director Ryan Murphy for this project.
- Creating the Cuckoo’s Nest: runs just four minutes. Here we learn about production designer Richard Shermanï¿½s approach to the wild kingdom that is the Finch house, which is practically a character in its own right.
- Previews: the usual stuff, with the highlight being a trailer for Sandra Bullockï¿½s Premonition.
Running With Scissors is dark, disturbing and funny. Though it fails to really engage its own story in any meaningful way, this film is worth checking out on this DVD, which offers up excellent video and audio. Bonus material is scant but of good quality.
Special Features List
- Inside Outsiders
- A Personal Memoir by Augusten Burroughs
- Creating the Cuckoo’s Nest