Running With Scissors

Year: 2007
Production Co: Plan B Entertainment
Director: Ryan Murphy
Writer: Ryan Murphy
Cast: Annette Benning, Alec Baldwin, Brian Cox, Joseph Cross, Evan Rachel Wood, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes

And we always blame Hollywood studios for formulaic filmmaking. Every time you sit down to a quirky family drama lately, does it feel the same as every other quirky family drama, each one a cacophonous claim of 'my family's kookier than yours'.

This is the industry Steven Spielberg warned about ten years ago when he compared the movies to India; a small elite rich ($100m-and-above Hollywood blockbusters) and a majority poor ($10m-and-below indie dramas positioned for awards kudos) but no middle class.

Running With Scissors is almost indistinguishable from the bevy of other Independent Quirky Family Comedies like  The Chumscrubber  and  Little Miss Sunshine .

It's the sort of project big name actors for some reason love - just look at the impressive casts of other suburbia-gone-wrong comedy/dramas. But what does it offer you and I, the audience?

Peel back the Formica of suburbia in the western world and people aren't happy. Mums and Dads don't love each other so they screw other mums and dads. Kids take and sell drugs. The generation gap is widening. Everyone's wrapped up in endless selfish pursuits so they can't see what's right in front of them. We get it! Do we really need the same story again, only with visuals and set pieces a bit more outrageous than last time, so bizarre they could only have come from two places – a vivid imagination or another 'fucked up childhood' memoir (or a combination thereof)?

And there's another problem with Running With Scissors, and it's not the only film with this fault. After the cruelty, abuse and mistreatment the (usually teenage male) protagonist faces, he bows and scrapes to it. When hero Augustin (Cross) is adopted out by his whacko mother (Benning) to her eccentric psychiatrist (Cox), he just looks a bit miffed. When he walks back to his own house after living in the filthy hovel with the psychiatrist's family and surprises his mother and her lesbian lover living in luxury, he just looks a bit miffed. When she finds the diary he's been keeping and warns him not to compete with her fantasies of literary fame in a moment of psychosis, he just looks a bit miffed.

At every stage of the film, the kid needs to scream, throw something and make a few threats because of the way he's being treated. Instead, he just pouts and writes what presumably became a compelling memoir. Sure, that means there'd be no movie, and in this case, that would have been a good thing.

Augustin's mother is an air-headed, selfish shrew, his father (Baldwin) drinks to escape her and leaves early in the movie. His failed poet mother is held in thrall by a shrink more screwed up than she is who tells her what she wants to hear and gets her hopelessly addicted to downers, so she inexplicably dumps Augustin onto him and his family consisting of even more kooky oddballs.

Augustin scowls and accepts everything that happens to him – a gay affair with fellow patient/adoptee Neil (Fiennes), a friendship with skanky daughter Natalie (Wood) and as close to a real mother as he'll ever get in Agnes (Clayburgh) – even if she watches cheesy horror movies all day and eats dog food.

If all this sounds damning, Running With Scissors has some big one-off laughs – listen out for the 'pussy' gag in particular. But it feels like it's never going to end despite only running a little over two hours, and you've seen it all before.

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