The performances in this film are out-of-the-ballpark excellent. Annette Bening is surely deserving of an Oscar nomination for her powerful yet delicate portrayal of Deirdre. Many involved with the film, including Burroughs, have commented on the amount of preparation and research she did for the role, including exploring such fine-tuned details as how her character would act when on one kind of medication as opposed to another.
Brian Cox, who played the closeted gay father in a 1991 BBC production of The Lost Language of Cranes, was a perfect choice for the Santa Clause-resembling Dr. Finch. His understated performance allows his character to maintain a matter-of-factness that underscores how crazy things really are in the Finch home.
Evan Rachel Wood, best known for her incredible performance in thirteen (she also played a budding baby dyke on ABC's Once and Again), is excellent as Natalie, Augusten's best friend in the film and perhaps the most â€œnormalâ€ member of the Finch family. Though Natalie has had her share of heartache, neglect and abuse, Wood's performance helps highlight the survivor in her character, who was a saving grace for Augusten.
One might be reminded of Gwyneth Paltrow's offbeat role in The Royal Tenenbaums with her performance here, but Paltrow also gives Hope an appropriately religious, neurotic edge in her small role. But several of the actions attributed to Hope in the book have been given to Agnes in the film since, as Burroughs told us, he and Ryan Murphy both love Jill Clayburgh and wanted to flesh out her role to give her more screen time.
â€œ[Ryan] also loved Agnes from the book,â€ Burroughs remarked. â€œHe saw Agnes as a bit of a hero, because she didn't sign up for this, but she got it, and she put up with it. I think that appealed to him.â€
Paltrow's Shakespeare in Love co-star Joseph Fiennes is suitably creepy, disturbed and somewhat childlike as Bookman. Burroughs applauds Fiennes' courage in taking this role: â€œHe's a leading man. â€¦ For him, in this stage of his career, to play a mentally deranged pedophile â€” that's incredible.â€
The lesbian bits in the film are present but small. This is Augusten's story more than his mother's, but we do, rather matter-of-factly, see her with female lovers throughout the film. Augusten seems more concerned about his mother's first girlfriend's dowdiness than by the fact that she's a woman. â€œHow could my mother be with Fern? She drives a Chevy Nova!â€ he exclaims.
One key scene, when Augusten walked in on his mom and Fern the first time, was toned down significantly for the film. In the book, they were in the midst of a more intimate act than the embrace shown onscreen.
â€œThe first version of the script that [Ryan Murphy] wrote was more explicit, and then he pulled it back,â€ Burroughs explained. â€œThere were a number of reasons for this. He wanted to have an R rating; he didn't want an NC-17 rating; he wanted people to see it; and he wanted the film to be made. He also felt that it didn't need to be sexually explicit in order for you to know what was going on.â€
Burroughs also mentioned that once Annette Bening was cast, some of the explicit behavior was toned down. â€œShe has four children,â€ he said.
Burroughs originally had no intention of optioning the book for a movie. â€œIt would be too easy to make a terrible movie from this book,â€ he said. He was concerned that Hollywood would oversensationalize the story, that it would become campy or silly. But he was won over by the persistence, tenacity and passion of a pre-Nip/Tuck Ryan Murphy.
They met for lunch, and Burroughs discovered that he and Murphy had similar upbringings: They are both gay and both had mothers who craved the limelight. Burroughs felt that Murphy understood the heart and soul of the book, and he is quite pleased with the outcome.
â€œI didn't care if the movie had every line from the book or every scene from the book,â€ Burroughs said, â€œand I wasn't really concerned with how he would achieve this, but what I wanted was for the movie to have the soul of the book. And for you to watch the movie and feel like you've read the book, feel like you've experienced my childhood, and that's what Ryan did.â€
Though the book's loyalists may quibble over the omission of some scenes and the addition of invented ones, overall the film does include much of the book's details, dialogue and scenes, while clearly capturing its essence. One walks away from the epilogue â€” where we learn about the characters' outcomes to the tongue-in-cheek accompaniment of Crosby, Stills and Nash's Teach Your Children â€” in wonder that the attractive man sitting next to Joseph Cross in the final frame emerged from that childhood not only alive, but managed to thrive.
Running With Scissors opens nationwide this Friday, Oct. 27.