Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross), an only child, was raised by an unstable mother (Annette Bening), who constantly blamed her husband (Alec Baldwin) for almost everything. Soon, the poor boy’s parents split up. Dad moves out but mom the poet is still unhappy, still stifled from the lack of creative flow. Mentally unbalanced, she decides to let her son stay at her shrink’s house. The residence is a pink building, slowly dilapidating in clutter and chaos. Frightened Augusten meets the peculiar Finch family: the bearded patriarch (Brian Cox), the haggard wife Agnes (Jill Clayburgh), the spooky daughter Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow), the unruly teen Natalie (Evan Rachel Woods), and the schizophrenic Neil (Ralph Fiennes).

Ryan Murphy, the creator of the bold TV series Nip/Tuck, steers this true-to-life film. Although not unstable as Augusten’s cuckoo mom, the film’s mixed medication of comedy and drama is certainly uneven. Murphy is adept at making the dark comedy work, giving us amusing details of the different characters’ eccentricities. Doctor Finch has a room called the “masturbatorium.” Hope has a cat named Freud, which communicates to her in dreams. Natalie likes to play a game, an electro-shock therapy game. The movie’s drama, however, fails to be engaging and lacks a much-needed power. As much I wanted to, I had difficulty relating. I think Ryan Murphy misjudged the characters. Yes, they are odd, eccentric, and interesting. But afterwhile, they are also uneasy people to spend time with. Except for a few, there are no substantial qualities to make you love them despite their flaws.

At least, the acting is great here. What a cast this is! Cox, Paltrow, Woods, Fiennes, Clayburgh, and Baldwin play their supporting roles with straight face and they shine in their own moments. Annette Bening plays one of the most selfish moms in movie history. Her endgame is her own happiness. It’s no surprise she single-handedly wrecks her family. She’s crazy! As Augusten, Joseph Cross is a decent actor who has yet to improve. I like the guy, but he is bland sometimes. His innocent visage here though adds a layer of heartbreak to the story. The film Running with Scissors reminds us how much of your upbringing can shape your future, your life. People like Augusten make you believe that childhood is not a right, but really, a luxury. In the end though, growing up normal is overrated. What counts is surviving your own history and embracing your own individuality. That’s exactly what Augusten did.

Grade: B

Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Jill Clayburgh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gabrielle Union, and Joseph Cross
Adpated from the book by
Augusten Burroughs
Screenplay by
Ryan Murphy
Directed by
Ryan Murphy
Rated R for strong language and elements of sexuality, violence and substance abuse