Dysfunction Junction

by Alan Rapp on October 27, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

If you enjoyed Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums here’s a film for you.  From the memoir of Augusten Burroughs comes his experiences surrounded by an insanity.  With a great cast including Annette Benning, Brian Cox, Evan Rachel Wood, Joseph Fiennes, Gwynth Paltrow (who was also in Tenenbaums) and Alec Baldwin we’ve got something worth enjoying.  It’s not a great film, but it is an enjoyable and bizarre comedy that should make you laugh.

Running with Scissors
3 & 1/2 Stars

It’s not Little Miss Sunshine, (read that review here), it doesn’t have its heart, but Running with Scissors does present wildly entertaining moments about a collection of some of the most screwed-up people you’re likely to view together in a film.  It’s a journey of one sane individual who finds himself trapped in an increasingly insane world. 

Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) is surrounded by insanity.  His father (Alec Baldwin) lives at the bottom of a bottle distraught over his wife’s insanity, and his mother (Annete Bening) believes herself to be America’s next great poet – except she can’t seem to get published by even the smallest journals.

From this family Augusten is pawned off onto his mother’s psychiatrist Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), who’s office includes a “masturbatorium” – a room set aside for the doctor to, well you get the idea.  It’s just one of many eccentricities of Finch and his family.

Dr. Cox’s family makes Augesten’s seem strangely normal.  There’s his mousey wife (Jill Clayburgh), the oldest daughter Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) who believes the cat can telepathically communicate to her, and the patient and adopted son Neil Bookman (Joseph Fiennes, in an almost completely unrecognizable performance) a 30-something schizophrenic who begins a physical relationship with young Augusten. 

The only normal person in the household is young Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood), though her idea of playing doctor will show you what passes for normalcy in the film.

The cast is terrific.  Cross does an amazing job presenting Augusten’s torment in every moment of his existence.  Benning proves she can play a great crazy lady and Cox provides some of the funniest moments of the film.  And Clayburgh and Evan Rachel Wood provide a few, precious few, moments of sanity and compassion.  The film also presents funny supporting performances from Kristin Chenoweth and Gabrielle Union who each have a unique relationship with Augusten’s mother.

The film’s real weakness is to always, without exception, to go for the absurd.  The results of this create amusing moments and some of the best individual lines of dialogue this year in film, but the overall effect creates a film of great highs and lows that becomes more and more of a caricature of memoir than memoir itself.  Based off the memoir of Augsten Burroughs you wonder how much reality was used to create these characters and situations, and if just a little more could have made this funny little film into something more.

As a whole the film never quite lives up to its potential; it’s more of a series of great moments stolen from a book than a fully realized film.  Like most novels made into movies the film feels unrestrained and over-condensed at the same time as too much is presented, but not enough explained.  Still with these performances and some great comic moments there’s enough here to enjoy.

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