Unloveable eccentrics specialise in rare form of mental cruelty

PUBLISHED: 17:04 12 February 2007 | UPDATED: 14:27 07 September 2010

By Michael Joyce Running With Scissors (15) Directed by Ryan Murphy. Starring Joseph Cross, Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Alec Baldwin, Evan Rachel Wood, Gwyneth Paltrow. 116 mins. Three star rating This adaptation of Augusten Burroughs memoir is laden

By Michael Joyce

Running With Scissors (15)

Directed by Ryan Murphy. Starring Joseph Cross, Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Alec Baldwin, Evan Rachel Wood, Gwyneth Paltrow. 116 mins.

Three star rating

This adaptation of Augusten Burroughs' memoir is laden with outlandish incidents and star names.

In the late 1970s, the marriage between alcoholic Norman Burroughs (Baldwin) and neurotic would-be poet Deirdra (Bening) is already on the rocks. But when she comes under the influence of a charismatic quack psychiatrist, Dr Finch (Cox), the marriage rapidly falls apart.

Their young son Augusten (Cross) ends up as part of Finch's family alongside his two daughters, Hope (Paltrow) and Natalie (Wood), and having an affair with one of his more unhinged and potentially dangerous patients, Bookman (Joseph Fiennes).

The movie has lots of things going for it except any real reason for watching it. It's laugh out loud funny at times. But, for the most part, it's painful to watch all this unthinking mental cruelty.

The film deserves credit for presenting a family of eccentrics who aren't in the least bit loveable. Characters such Finch and Deirdra aren't evil. But, the pair are so self-absorbed and distracted, they may as well be. Finch can sense a faint gust of mental instability and whips it up into full breakdown.

Cross holds it all together in the main role although he's far too old. He looks like an unnaturally youthful mid-20s actor who's still passing for late teens in a long running American sit-com. The film keeps mentioning the school that he never attends but it's still a real shock when he has a 15th birthday late in the film.

A really top-notch cast has been assembled and, although nobody is too blatant about it, most are slipping a few casual seeming glances at the Academy.

Bening goes through the emotional wringer with gusto and great skill - but the American Beauty baggage doesn't help.

Baldwin seems to have become his Team America puppet - his face doesn't seem to move at all. Amazingly, this doesn't seem to hinder his performance one bit.

Finch is a gift of a role with all the funniest lines and Cox knows not to

overdo it.

I was mystified by the wallflower appearance of Gwyneth 'Paltry' who makes no impression at all as Hope and is completely outshone by Evan Rachel Wood. No doubt she just absolutely adores the book and was desperate to be in the film version. But there is something almost masochistic about this doormat performance from someone who is supposedly a major movie star.


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