A Cut Below

    Running With Scissors” is another movie whose trailer is infinitely more entertaining than the movie itself, packaged into a thrilling 60-second existence. Something is amiss in this screen adaptation of the true-life memoirs of non-fiction writer Augusten Burroughs, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what. For “Nip/Tuck” fans excited to see Ryan Murphy — the show’s creator — try his hand at directing a feature film, or for those who can’t wait to see their beloved book turned into a movie, the outcome will no doubt be a disappointment.

    Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

    Gone is the sleek edginess of the dark comedy about plastic surgeons, where Murphy carved his niche. It’s been replaced with a light-hearted focus on the initially fascinating characters of the Finch family, with Augusten Burroughs is forced to spend his adolescence. These characters are satisfyingly weird — with a quirkiness that only a true story could breed — but they appear like cartoon cut-outs, delving just deep enough to give us a laugh and then moving on to the next piece of situational irony.

    The high level of quality that made the novel worth reading — the heart behind the humor — is also missing. In life, and no doubt very poignantly in Burroughs’ 14-year-old life (including a drugged out mother, a distant, alcoholic father and a completely dysfunctional adoptive household), there is much cause for pain.

    But it is the ability to bring out humor in light of pain that melds others to one’s plight, and the movie gets it backward, starting with jokes and then forcing the emotional stakes. Under the guise of charming dysfunctions, the film is infused with a heartlessness — a certain detachedness implying that since everybody is so constantly screwed up, it’s never really worth bothering with. The problem with this approach, of course, is that, in turn, the audience will stop bothering themselves with the film.

    Luckily, the actors alone merit a steep ticket price, speared by Annette Bening as the Valium-popping, new-found-lesbian writer/mother whose glazed eyes are so ghastly that it seems impossible that she played this role without severe sedation. The retro art design is also quite nice, reminding us that, though this film is no Criterion Collection, it might well be one of the better theater options in the horror-laden month of October.

    All in all, the journey of the real Burroughs (appearing in the end credits next to actor Joseph Cross, who plays him in the film) seems a little lost alongside the film’s constant sideshow of comic relief.

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