Barely Cutting It

Running with Scissors. Annette Bening, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, and Gwyneth Paltrow star in a film written and directed by Ryan Murphy, and based on the book by Augusten Burroughs.

Reviewed by Molly Freedenberg

Making a movie out of a memoir that many of my friends call “the best book ever” can’t be easy, as expectations are necessarily going to run high. But adapting a beloved book well does guarantee an immediate audience. Unfortunately, I don’t think Nip/Tuck producer Ryan Murphy is going to satisfy that audience with Running with Scissors.

Despite some memorable moments and a few remarkable performances, this movie is ultimately forgettable. It relies too much on cinematic devices that other films have used first or used better — its quirky, surreal quality, for example, made me hunger for the better executed and more original The Royal Tenenbaums. And without creating its own visual language, the film left me feeling like this story was already told the way it was supposed to be told — with words on a page.

Still, the movie’s strengths make it worth seeing. Annette Bening steals the show with her complex, sympathetic portrayal of the lead character’s wildly unstable mom, bringing to mind her equally brilliant performance in American Beauty. Evan Rachel Wood is captivating as the Lolita-like Natalie. And though few and far between, the jokes and visual gags that work in the film really work — and are sure to become part of our cultural vocabulary.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of Running with Scissors is Gwyneth Paltrow as the strange and morose Hope. The film wastes Paltrow’s exceptional talent, making her a mere caricature of other characters she has played before and played better (the dark, sullen Margot in The Royal Tenenbaums meets depressed, daddy-obsessed Catherine in Proof.)

Aside from these flaws, however, Running with Scissors is still one of the more interesting, substantial films in theaters this year. And its surreal, retro feel (plus the titillating material) will undoubtedly earn it some hardcore fans. But I doubt any of them will be people who read the book first.

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