Seconds before Running with Scissors began, my mother turned to me and whispered, “you know, this movie didn’t get very good reviews.” I laughed naively and nodded, secure in the knowledge that the movie was based on a very intelligent, funny and poignant memoir. I figured that critics can be too snooty for their own good and they trash quality movies all the time; unfortunately it became very clear that some movies, like Running with Scissors, get very bad reviews simply because they are very, very bad.
If you didn’t know, Running with Scissors is based on the odd childhood of Augusten Burroughs. It chronicles his life growing up with a psychotic mother and an alcoholic, distant father. Out of necessity Augesten moves in with his mother’s psychiatrist’s family, who make his real family look like the Cleavers. Most of what makes the memoirs so good is Augesten’s heartfelt search for meaning in the face of complete laugh-out-loud absurdity and disorder. Director Ryan Murphy apparently had a different take on the memoirs.
I can imagine Mr. Murphy gathering all of the actors and actresses into a circle and saying, “We’re going to play a little game and the goal is to make every scene as insanely depressing and boring as possible. Whoever does this the best wins a million dollars and by the way, you also lose points for being funny - go make me proud.” This is the only way I can explain how actors as skilled as Annette Bening and Alec Baldwin turn in such dreadful performances (although I should note that Joseph Fiennes' performance manages to claw it's way into mediocrity).
The lone bright spot in Running with Scissors is its soundtrack. Ironically, the soundtrack is used to horrible effect since it often serves as a counterpoint to depressing, overly dramatic events on the screen. Whatever pleasure might have come from hearing Phoebe Snow’s The Poetry Man, or Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets gets lost under the suffocating dialogue and overacting. And when that wonderful soundtrack isn’t playing you can literally hear crickets chirping. And I’m not even kidding.
I have some advice for those of you who wanted to see Running with Scissors. If you liked the quirky, sharp-witted previews, go rent The Royal Tanenbaums by Wes Anderson. If you found Augesten’s story intriguing, go read the book instead. And if you’ve already read Running with Scissors, for god’s sake don’t see this movie.