Based on the bestselling book of the same title, 'Running with Scissors' is a funny and often harrowing account of 'family' life in 1970s America.
The book was a memoir written by Augusten Burroughs (Cross) about the dysfunctional and disturbing upbringing he endured. This adaptation takes some liberties with the original tale, but, according to the author, stays true to its spirit.
His mother Deirdre (Bening) was a wannabe novelist with limited ability. However, delusions of grandeur led her to believe she was destined for greatness. His father Norman (Baldwin) was an alcoholic college professor who couldn't separate his contempt for his wife and his love for his child.
Deirdre attempted to solve the couple's marital problems by enlisting the unorthodox services of Dr Finch (Cox). However, this step only exacerbated the divisions in their relationship and the pair eventually split.
At the age of 12, the sensitive Augusten, who dreams of becoming a professional hairdresser, not only goes through the traumatic experience of a parental divorce, but his mother then gives him up for adoption to Dr Finch and his bizarre family. The conditions, both physical and psychological, which Augusten is subjected to will make you regret all the whinging you've ever done about your own childhood.
It is after the hastily-arranged adoption that it becomes apparent that what we are witnessing here is not a farce. The humour remains throughout, but it is almost terrifying to think that any child would have to develop in such a twisted environment.
The casting is impeccable and it is hard to imagine anyone else playing any of the main roles. Special mention goes to Brian Cox and Joseph Fiennes. The therapist's personality is warped, to say the least, but Cox navigates the tricky task of capturing the eccentricity, without wandering into caricature territory.
Similarly, Joseph Fiennes lands himself the almost impossible job of mustering sympathy for Neil Bookman. This unhinged character was also adopted as a youth by Dr Finch, but has never broken free from the doctor's grasp. Bookman enters into a sexual relationship with Augusten (a teenage boy less than his age), and yet it is hard not to feel for the guy. This is because Burroughs doesn't engage in any character assassinations. These freakshows are considered mere products of their time and you are simply left wondering how our main protagonist survived.
But survive he did and Augusten has lived to tell the tale, which is essentially the moral of the movie. Despite his unconventional adolescence, Augusten managed to crawl out the other side relatively unscathed which means hope and humour are the overriding emotions we are left with – along with a healthy dollop of disbelief.