Most viewers probably won’t be able to tell if Running With Scissors, based on the best-selling memoir of the same name, is supposed to be a dark comedy, or just totally fucked up.
Augusten Burroughs, who wrote the memoir, co-produced the film, and is played by Joseph Cross, spends his formative years with his mother, Deirdre, a narcissistic, self-loathing poet with a caustic wit. After another one of her dramatic mental breakdowns, she abruptly sends Augusten to a strange mansion, decorated with piles of crusty dishware and weird knick-knacks, where he will be under the careful watch of her therapist, Dr. Finch.
There, Augusten meets Finch’s mad-cap family, who spend their time munching on kibble and smashing holes in the kitchen ceiling, and plan their days by picking random words from the Bible. He fakes a suicide attempt to get out of school, discovers his homosexuality with the help of a 35 year-old schizophrenic, and finally learns he can overcome the worst in life when Agnes, Dr. Fink’s beady-eyed, bag-lady of a wife (one of the few characters with any substance), becomes something of a mother-figure.
It’s not the type of story that sounds very funny. But it is. Perhaps the late ‘70s pop soundtrack, colorful cinematography and sheer lack of character development has something to do with it. It also helps that Augusten is a stylish darling, not a pimple-faced wreck.
It’s no surprise that the humor is exploited more than the gut-wrenching torment. The real Augusten Burroughs probably wanted it that way—cinematically, anything else would’ve been insufferable.