Running with Scissors

In the spirit but not the success of The Royal Tenenbaums

"The 'family' has clearly emerged anew in the late 1970s as a central subject for discussion, debate, research and writing in both scholarly and popular arenas. Anxiety over whether or not the family as a basic social institution is dying has diminished. In its stead has emerged a fairly broad consensus around the position that the family is "here to stay," but that it certainly is changing." Sheila B. Kamerman

"Where do I begin to tell the story of how my mother left me, and then I left her?"

This promising opening, narrated by Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross), is followed by a scene in his 1972 Massachusetts home with his mother, Deirdre (Annette Bening) reciting tepid poetry composed for sending to The New Yorker into a microphone at a mock poetry reading. After that interesting scene, director Ryan Murphy, adapting the 2002 successful novel of the same name, piles on sometimes funny scenes in the spirit but not the success of Royal Tenenbaums and Little Miss Sunshine.

Eventually given up for adoption to an aging and unstable shrink, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), Augusten samples a fringe life of turd gazing in a toilet, a masturbatiorium room for the doctor, and shock treatments for fun. In all of the seemingly eccentric scenes, there is no character, not even the narrator (played too remotely) who commands sympathy or with whom an audience can identify. Deirdre is too outr? to be believable (although Bening is impressive in the devolution of the only possibly sympathetic character), and the doctor would be better played as Cox did the first Hannibal Lecter.

The minor characters such as Evan Rachel Wood's Natalie seem to exist for amusement rather than touchstones for what makes this house dysfunctional. The connections of love or even hate among family members do not bind as they did for the Tenenbaums. After a while, no jokey set up garners a laugh. What does happen, though, is a desire to go to the book to enjoy the faultless deadpan narration that endears readers to Augusten.