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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