- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘Running With Scissors’

Rating: R for strong language and elements of sexuality, violence and substance abuse.

Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 17 and older.

** (out of five stars)

Running time: 120 minutes

Common Sense review: More absurd than insightful, “Running with Scissors” treats its dangerously self-deluded characters as broadly comic figures. Based on the best-selling 2002 memoir by Augusten Burroughs, the film grapples with mature themes — including child sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness — but loses its way thanks to its episodic structure and flat-footed humor.

Director Ryan Murphy’s film follows the tumultuous relationship between the precocious Augusten (briefly played as a 6-year-old by Jack Kaeding, thereafter by Joseph Cross) and his mother. Excitable, delusional and erratic, aspiring poet Deirdre (Annette Bening) is at once frightening and pathetic, delusional and wholly unable to set the usual “boundaries” for her bewildered son.

As a child, he’s thrilled to be “special” like Deirdre. Like his mother, he defines himself in opposition to his miserably alcoholic dad, Norman (Alec Baldwin). At first, Augusten looks pleased to participate in his mother’s “liberation” through her art, but when a fight with Norman ends with him on the kitchen floor, Augusten sees there are consequences to Deirdre’s endless anger.

Frustrated by her poetry group, Deirdre takes up therapy and medication. When Dr. Finch (Brian Cox) agrees with Deirdre that her husband is a “narcissist” and then invites the couple to glimpse his inner sanctum, Norman walks out. Augusten is almost relieved to see his father go, but he’s devastated when Deirdre abandons him as well. Following a visit to Dr. Finch’s home, she hands Augusten over to the Finch family while she heads to a motel room for further “treatment.”

The family is “quirky,” their damage less funny than condescending and creepy. Augusten finds some solace in bed with his new “brother,” the darkly manic 35-year-old Neil Bookman (Joseph Fiennes), but their romance is hardly healthy. Organized by assorted traumas, “Running With Scissors” seems dated and smug. By the time Augusten makes his escape, you’re way ahead of him.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that this film isn’t for children. It’s based on the true story of author Augusten Burroughs’ extremely dysfunctional childhood and runs the gamut of bizarre, often-crazy behavior. Families can discuss Augusten’s difficult relationship with his mother. How does he come eventually to understand her behavior? How does the movie show that he has to leave her to survive, even though the separation is painful for both of them? What about Augusten’s relationship with Neil? Is it abusive, tender and loving, or both? How is the “therapy” that Deirdre and Augusten receive from Dr. Finch bogus, detrimental, and dangerous? If you were in Augusten’s position, how do you think you would have coped?

Sexual content: Dr. Finch keeps a “Masturbatorium” in his office; sexual activity between a 14-year-old boy and his 35-year-old male lover (some skin visible, not explicit).

Language alert: Casual, frequent and angry use of profanity, including extreme expletives.

Violence alert: A woman slams her husband against a cupboard, and he falls to the floor, his head bloodied; discussions of suicide and electroshock therapy; an adopted adult son explodes in father’s office.

Social-behavior alert: Frequent cigarette smoking by teens and adults, doctor dispenses pills randomly to “quiet the nerves,” lots of drinking.

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