Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Running With Oscars

"Running With Scissors" (dir. Ryan Murphy, US, 2006, 121 mins.) previewed to a PACKED house tonight at the Metreon in San Francisco. As word has it, Annette Bening delivers a huge, powerhouse performance as Augusten Burroughs psychotic mom in this film version of his memoirs. She gives a no-holds-barred performance! It is ferocious, pathetic, scary and funny. She clearly dominates the film, though Jill Clayburgh gives a great supporting performance by playing to the opposite. Clayburgh (who allowed the production to age her past her 62 years) plays Burroughs 'adoptive mother' with quiet and subtle affection. In my experience with the film, she was the heart of the piece.

Caught between these two is Augusten Burroughs, played by Joseph Cross. Here is where I have some debatable qualms. Cross portrays Burroughs with an unusual stability and innocence that just didn't sync up with the insanity with which he is surrounded. Director Ryan Murphy seems to have chosen to make Augusten an innocent waif, starting with a nearly outrageously cute and precocious 6 year old Augusten, played by Jack Kaeding. In translating the memoir to film, the acerbic wit of the words authored by Burroughs himself, which served to portray him in print, is lost in watching Cross in an observational characterization, and placed in the position of being our innocent hero lost in this Wonderland. Yes, there are points in which he displays pain, angst, confusion, etc. However, it did not seem to me that Cross carried the emotional baggage of that world with him throughout the film. It is the best and worst aspect of the film, in that we are observing his mother just as he does. But I think it would have carried a great deal more weight had the film focused more on his internal struggle than the extraordinary circumstances surrounding him.

That said, those circumstances are gloriously performed and designed. The Finch household to which he is abandoned is played with gusto by Brian Cox, Jill Clayburgh, Gwyneth Paltrow and Evan Rachel Wood, with special mention to production designer Richard Sherman and set decorator Mathew Ferguson for having created a house that plays a character unto itself. Joseph Fiennes appears in all his studly glory as the teenage Augusten's middle-age, schizophrenic lover. Alec Baldwin also gives a beautifully understated and painful performance as Burrough's father and Bening's nemesis.

The music supervision (which I can not find a credit for) was just a delight as it triggered a whole series of 70's flashbacks for me! There were some minute lapses in continuity, however that is the danger in having cigarettes play such a central role in the action, it seems. Though it is shot in widescreen, the cinematography itself wasn't all that spectacular. However, the costume design was fabulous: from tracing Mrs. Burrough's attempts at being fashionable to the nearly Addams family goth of the Finches.
When it comes to Oscars, Bening is a sure bet to go toe-to-toe with Helen Mirren's Queen Elizabeth. The characters are 180 degrees from each other, as are the techniques necessary to portray them. It'll be interesting to see which one will win! Clayburgh and the adapted screenplay are also shoe-ins for nominations. It is possible that the film will ride the performances into a best picture nom, though I would be hesitant myself to label it as such.


Maxxxxx said...

"Such a cranky bird!"

Reel Fanatic said...

Great review ... This one is definitely on my short list of must-see movies for the rest of the year, and I'm so happy to hear that Annette Benning delivers once again (even if Helen Mirren is the definite heavy Oscar favorite so far.)

Jay, the Angry Little Man said...

Thanks guy!

It actually means a lot to get this kind of feedback from a PRO like you! How do you keep such a heavy output EVERYDAY!?! OH! And I TOTALLY agree with your assessment of the "Black Movie Awards"!! I mean... REALLY!!!