Sunday, October 29, 2006

Running with Scissors: The Movie

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I love Augusten Burroughs. I’ve read, or listened, to three of his five books so far including Running with Scissors and in all of them, he has managed to write uniquely telling and touching memoirs of a lemonade life built on a foundation of lemons. October 27, 2006 saw the national release of Running with Scissors, based on the book by Augusten Burroughs, and staring Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Alec Baldwin and both Joseph Cross and Jack Kaeding as a young and younger version Augusten Burroughs.

The film chronicles the childhood years of Augusten Burroughs set against the backdrop of his parent’s troubled marriage and eventual divorce, his father’s abandonment, his mother’s severe mental instability, and his living with and eventual adoption by his mother’s psychiatrist. The most compelling and horrifying fact of Running with Scissors it that it is based on the real life events that made up Augusten Burroughs’ young life.

The transition from the page to the screen is rarely smooth and simple. As expected, translating a book that can be read in just short of eight hours to a film that needs to be viewed in two requires some omission. However Ryan Murphy, who both directed and wrote the screenplay, manages to hit all of the marks necessary to convey the absolute absurdness of the life experienced by a young Augusten Burroughs without making any of the characters seem anything less than human.

Murphy does take advantage of the emotional content of the material to such an extent that he almost over uses it on occasion by showing several characters trying to deal with their own, individual demons in a succession of shots that show all of their anguish at the same time. However he manages to balance that by including a certain amount of silence throughout the film and letting the events just happen without any undue influence.

The cast of Running with Scissors is brilliant. Annette Bening turns in an outstanding performance as the amazingly out of touch and occasionally psychotic anti-mother, Deirdre Burroughs. Brian Cox is also excellent in his roll as Dr. Finch and manages to capture the character much as I had envisioned when listening to Augusten Burroughs read Running with Scissors as an audiobook. In addition Jill Clayburgh, Evan Rachel Wood, Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow all give captivating performances as ghosts from Burroughs’ past.

Both Jack Kaeding and Joseph Cross are convincing as young incarnations of Augusten Burroughs…although the younger Kaeding kept reminding me of how the author David Sedaris must have looked as a child. Cross gives Running with Scissors a performance that allows the audience to place a human face on the insanity and upheaval that was the life of Augusten Burroughs.

Readers of Augusten Burroughs, even the casual, should enjoy the film for the same reasons as the book; the lunacy, the humanity, the frailty and the heart. Those unfamiliar with Burroughs will find an often humorous while heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle to grow up and survive the insanity of the world around him.

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