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by Willie Waffle

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Running With Scissors

If you loved Little Miss Sunshine, this is the movie for you.

Based on the memoirs of the same name written by Augusten Burroughs, Joseph Cross (who can also be seen in Flags of Our Fathers, what a year!) stars as the young teen Burroughs as he attempts to cope with a confusing youth.  His parents, Deirdre (Annette Benning) and Norman (Alec Baldwin), constantly fight until they get divorced.  Then, Deirdre gets all wrapped up with a questionable, quacky therapist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox).  As she falls deeper under his control, Augusten becomes part of the doctor’s family, and tries to find something resembling a normal life, as mayhem and tragedy occur around him.

Will Augusten be able to survive all of this turmoil?

I mentioned Little Miss Sunshine, because Running With Scissors evokes many of the same thoughts and opinions I had of that Steve Carell movie.  Writer/director Ryan Murphy continually finds ways to mix heartache and comedy in a way that each seems to need the other in Running With Scissors.  You laugh at the crazy antics on screen, and wonder how any of this could have happened.  Even Burroughs makes it very clear at the beginning of the movie that you will find it all hard to believe, but you also can’t believe anyone could make up this stuff as each situation is more extraordinary than the next one.  Yet, after each laugh is the realization that the funny moment masks someone’s pain or causes someone’s heart to break, and that’s what gets our attention and makes you feel for the people on the story.     

Murphy’s biggest triumph in the film is the way he keeps the audience engaged even though Running With Scissors has no real plot.  We watch Augusten’s life play out before us, but the writing is so good, and the situations so captivating that the audience is on the edge of their seats waiting for the next comic tragic event to happen.  However, not every twist is comic, which shows us how much the character must confront.  Each character’s pain, sorrow and neuroses are on display as they fight in psychobabble, try to justify their actions and act as if the odd is blasé, and it works because the cast is superb.

Running With Scissors has one of the most talented casts in any movie you will see this year, led by sure thing Oscar nominee Benning.  Deirdre is one of the most complex characters you will ever see on screen, and Benning brings out everything you will love and hate about her.  She shows us Deirdre’s narcissism, love for her son, confusion over what her life has become, the way she has been taken advantage of by others in her life, and, most of all, the rage that has been building up inside of her (whether it is justified or not). Benning lost the Best Actress Oscar race twice to Hillary Swank, but The Black Dahlia is more likely to earn Swank a Razzie this year, so maybe this is the year for an actress who has been turning in fantastic performances for many years.    

The rest of the cast is quite good as well.  Gwyneth Paltrow shows up as the creepiest daughter ever, and will get under your skin with her vacant stares.  Then, Cox is superb as the outrageous doc who comes off like a slick used car salesman.  Finally, Evan Rachel Wood is stupendous as the caring, troubled, heartbreaking sister-like figure Augusten so desperately needs (and a kindred spirit), while Jill Clayburgh brings some humanity to her role as the put upon wife who seems to have no influence, and Baldwin steals almost every scene he is in. 

Let’s not forget Cross who perfectly embodies Augusten as a young, wide eyed innocent who has to grow up faster than anyone would want.  He shows each crack of his heart in his face, yet finds a way to show us Augusten’s strength when it’s time to act. 

Running With Scissors is a masterpiece.              

4 Waffles (Out Of 4)

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