Susan Granger reviews “Running with Scissors”

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Augusten Burroughs’ best-selling memoir of his unconventional family and traumatic struggle through adolescence must have been more credible than this film adaptation which is so bizarre that it’s almost surreal.

Narcissistic, neurotic poet Deirdre (Annette Bening) is continuously frustrated that the world doesn’t recognize her genius, so she takes out her rage on her alcoholic husband Norman (Alec Baldwin). In an effort to restore harmony, the couple enters therapy with unconventional, pill-pushing Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), who demands daily five-hour sessions and often retreats to a private sanctuary known as The Masturbatorium. Fed up, stoic Norman splits, leaving Deidre with their teenage son Augusten, who is summarily abandoned on the Finch family’s doorstep. Living in a rundown, rambling, bright-pink Victorian house (inspired by the drawings of Edward Gorey), the zany, idiosyncratic Finches are an eccentric crew.

There’s Dr. Finch’s damaged wife Agnes (Jill Clayburgh), who nibbles dog kibble while watching old movies on a TV in a filthy parlor with a decorated Christmas tree, and her two daughters – prim, Bible-obsessed Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow), who digs up her dead cat to make into stew, and rebellious, sexually precocious Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) – plus a gay adopted son Neil (Joseph Fiennes) who is undoubtedly insane.

Adapted and directed by Ryan Murphy (”Nip/Tuck”), it’s episodic and shallow, emphasizing the anecdotal absurdity which is astutely augmented by production designer Richard Sherman. Exuding vulnerability, tenaciously talented Annette Bening is oddly convincing, although her monstrous, pity-partying mother character isn’t, while Brian Cox manages to make the unorthodox doctor’s droll dialogue vaguely amusing. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Running With Scissors” is a dysfunctional 5 with Joseph Cross and the real-life Augusten Burroughs sharing a poignant final moment together.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.