Friday, October 06, 2006

MovieWatch:"Running With Scissors"

"Running With Scissors"
Director: Ryan Murphy
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 50
In a Nutshell: I was not spectacularly enamored with (by?) Augusten Burroughs' memoir "Running with Scissors," which frequently felt disingenuously self-indulgent to me, but if the book has a great virtue, it's Burroughs' refusal to let the absurdist tragedy of his life ever effect the comic rhythm of his prose. Even when it's miserable, it zips along with an undeniable energy. It's unfortunately, then, that in writer-director Ryan Murphy's hands, a book that felt like it could be read in two hours has become a movie that feels like it takes 10 hours to watch. Despite TV credits -- the underrated "Popular" and the overrated "Nip/Tuck" -- that suggest a gift with mixing melodrama and pitch black comedy, Murphy only occasionally captures Burroughs' tone and never for a second does he get Burroughs pace. Murphy's problem comes out of the book, which is long on eccentric anecdotes and short on traditional emotional arc, and out of an inability to build a separate cinematic momentum. Too many scenes devolve into two characters sitting next to each other or across from each other delivered in static shot-reverse-shots that seem to go on forever. While certain images are well-realized from the book, the Murphy is never confident with camera placement, which drains impact from a number of shots. And Murphy is smart enough that he feels every lag, but inexperienced enough to believe that a cliched piece of campy classic rock can smooth things over. Whole stretches of the movie play out over one song after another, with the lyrics often over-articulating what's happening on screen. For all of his aesthetic problems, Murphy gets a slew of excellent performances, with Brian Cox and the underused Alec Baldwin standing out and Joseph Cross, as Burroughs, doing decent work as well. As in the book, the women are more arch and Annette Benning's performance will be polarizing, I'd imagine. If she hadn't done similarly affected work to Oscar-nominated effect in "American Beauty" and "Being Julia," I'd have been more impressed. This was a book that had to be adapted by a Bennett Miller or a Noah Baumbach or even a Wes Anderson. Actually, it had to be adapted by Hal Ashby or Billy Wilder, but neither was, um, available.


  1. Anonymous11:37 PM

    since you asked, enamored takes the preposition "of."

    pedantically yrs.,

  2. Anonymous10:10 PM

    good review. wasn't it just like WHO CARES!!!? i thought it was horrific. i think i would have slipped into a coma if wes anderson had directed this movie.

  3. Yeah. It was, unfortunately, a good deal worse than I gave it credit for. I'd knock it down to a 40 or a 35 out of 100 if I were scoring now. That's what I get for using a meaningless scoring system!

  4. My problem in reviewing this movie was that while I in general loved the performances I wished Burroughs (and Murphy) had played up the absurdist tragedy a little more.

    It bothered me that Dr. Finch knew about Augusten's relationship with Bookman and let it continue. It bothered me that after reading the book & seeing the movie I have no idea how Burroughs feels about that now. AND it really bothered me that I found myself reviewing a movie by making moral judgments about its characters.

    I wish Brian Cox had played Finch with a hint of the darkness and melancholy he brought to "Deadwood," because in book and movie of "Scissors" the character is completely inscrutable to me. I loved Bening, Clayburgh,& Baldwin; Wood and Paltrow have of course been better used elsewhere.