“Dear Journal, what can I say? He drove a cool car,” remarks a certain 13-year-old boy by the name of Augusten Burroughs in the new movie adaptation of the memoir Running With Scissors. Having read Burroughs’ reminiscences of a homosexual boy with a 35-year-old boyfriend growing up in western Massachusetts in the late 70s, I was readily expecting golden phrases such as the former in the film’s adaptation. To this extent it did not disappoint. With Burroughs’ witty recounting of a bizarre and dark childhood being faithfully translated to film, from the erratic Dr. Finch’s (Brian Cox) tour of ‘the maturbatorium’ to Augusten’s own wish to be treated as a normal child by declaring “I want to be grounded for sleeping with a 35- year-old schizophrenic.” Superb performances range from Annette Bening as Augusten’s neurotic poetess mother Deidre Burroughs, to newcomer Joseph Cross as Augusten himself. Evan Rachel Wood is Finch’s least favourite daughter Natalie, who reminds us how unlucky we are to live in the 21st century where smoking on screen, coupled with a good deal of eye shadow, can no longer be seen as sexy and seductive.
However, what preoccupied me the most about the adaptation of the book into film was the possible level of seriousness that I found to be present on screen. Where in the novel, Dr. Finch asking Mrs. Burroughs whether constipation might be a symptom of her failing marriage and decling mental health may be read as side splittingly funny, the camera seems to dwell too long on Bening’s anguished face for the viewer to have any hope of drawing the same humorous conclusion. As the film went on, I felt with impending dread that with the intent of drawing a larger, yet majoritarily illiterate film-going public, the film’s producers might have wanted it to conform to such other dysfunctional family genre films such as Garden State or the Royal Tenenbaums. A shot of Bening’s face bifurcated by the mirror of a medicine cabinet full of pills seemed air lifted from Zach Baff’s Garden State. However, as Burroughs later remarked in an interview, “it wasn’t important that every single phrase or person appeared in the movie…what I wanted was to incorporate the spirit of the book so that viewers could leave having felt what it was like [to be me]… I write in order to understand and to move past something emotionally and I think the movie accomplishes that.”
Bearing this in mind, bring on Augusten’s 35-year-old lover, the mentally ill Neil Bookman screaming his poem “The Angry Nun” to a group of terrified feminist poetesses. Revel in Dr. Finch’s assertion that “my turd is a direct communication from the Holy Father!” because if Burroughs believes the film’s unapologetic use of humour in handling taboo topics such as child abuse and mentally ill and alcoholic parents is spot-on, it ought to be good enough for everybody. Running With Scissors will surely join Thank You For Smoking as one of the funniest films of 2006, embracing serious topics in a humorous manner. And if you feel the level of homosexual intercourse or distasteful subject matter isn’t for you, then, as Dr. Finch remarks to Augusten on faking a suicide attempt to skip school, “where is your spirit of adventure?” n