* out of ****
At the age of twelve, Augusten Burroughs found himself the sole child in the middle of a rough marriage. His father (Alec Baldwin) - an alcoholic - and his mother Deidre (Annette Bening) - a psychotic - fought constantly and eventually their kitchen-bound warfare of both the physical and emotional variety got so intense that Burroughs' mother sent him to live with her psychiatrist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox); a good doctor, according to Deidre. The Finch house is populated by the doctor, his daughters, and his wife, who eats dog food directly from the rough paper bag while watching "Dark Shadows". This is the story of Augusten's adolescent years spent in this crazy house with these crazy people and those crazy thoughts that go through your head when you're of that age. It also concerns Augusten's realization of his sexuality; as well as his relationship with the adopted son of Dr. Finch, Neil Bookman (Joseph Fiennes), who is several decades older than Augusten.
That was the plot of the 2002 memoir "Running with Scissors", written by Augusten Burroughs himself, that was eventually revealed by its author to be a mixture of fact and fiction. Regardless of what was true and what wasn't, I read the shit out of the book and enjoyed it immensely; what carries it is Burroughs' gift for highly descriptive language/choice of words, and the story actually drew you in emotionally with a blend of humor and melancholy. Think what you will, I thought it was pretty darn good. Augusten has gone on to write many more pseudo-memoires, and I'm sure a lot of them are just as good, if not better (or worse, since you know, that's a possibility). I only question him in his ability to tell the complete truth and admit it if he isn't.
I said that the basic synopsis I provided was the plot of Burroughs' pseudo-memoir because it isn't really the plot of Ryan Murphy's 2007 film adaptation. Murphy closes in specifically on the relationship between Burroughs and his schizo mom and disregards most of the themes regarding Burroughs' sexuality or the traumatic effects that the doctor's profession might have on his children. Quite a bit from the book made it to the movie, but being faithful to a source novel means more than just locking in the images and situations and bringing them to the screen. In this case, it would also mean the manipulation of the difficult yet undeniably honest emotions that flowed through the pages of Burroughs' memoir; and that's precisely where this adaption is sorely lacking. You can tell it's a train-wreck going nowhere within the first ten minutes. It's almost skit-like in its presentation with nothing to sew it all together.
I didn't feel that the point of Burroughs' novel was to point out the eccentricities of the Finch family. There are characters, like the hopeless Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) - who does a terrible thing to the family cat out of delusion - and the "other daughter" Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood), who is decidedly more of a rebel than her sister, who offered insight into Augusten's story in the book, yet here they merely...exist, or something. It would have been cool if they had elaborated on the relationships shared between Augusten and each supporting character individually, but I felt as if the film cared more about treating them all as a whole. And you see; that just doesn't work out. I'm convinced by this film alone that Burroughs' literary works should never be adapted for the screen again, since some authors' stories are meant to exist in the medium that they were originally made for. Some books are like that; and I knew from the beginning that "Running with Scissors" was one of those books that was going to be awkwardly translated for film if it was translated at all. It doesn't just feel compressed, like a lot of adaptations do. This is just bad filmmaking.
It's been a while since a film legitimately pissed me off as this one did, but there you have it. I don't usually read a book before seeing a movie but I must admit, it's become somewhat of a habit lately and I intend to continue following up on the "habit". As someone who took the time to read the "memoir", I find this movie particularly discouraging. It feels as if everyone involved didn't actually READ the book before exploring these territories. This is not the story that Burroughs wrote. This is some dull, predictable, stupid, PG-13 caliber Hollywood version of it. It's supposed to be both funny and sad, just like the book, but I think I laughed once (in a scene where Bening's character takes a valium with mediocre 70's pop music playing in the background) and I know for a fact I didn't cry. You could have given me the benefit of including the gay sex scenes from the novel. At least then I could stare at this film with some dark, morbid sense of amusement. Instead I just feel dead and gone. Murphy and company should be ashamed.