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Mommie weirdest

One Woman's Frustrated Rage Anchors The Movie Version Of Her Son's Hilarious Yet Horrifying Memoir, `Running With Scissors.'

September 10, 2006|Rachel Abramowitz | Times Staff Writer

IN the annals of dysfunctional families, a definite subgenre of American literature, few families are quite as loopy as the Finches in Augusten Burroughs' memoir, "Running With Scissors." The mom ate dog kibble. The dad was a quack of a psychiatrist who doled out pharmaceuticals like Chiclets. And the house was a ludicrously messy pink monstrosity with bric-a-brac strewn across the front lawn and a permanently installed Christmas tree.

This is where Burroughs' mother dumped him -- Dr. Finch was her psychiatrist -- in the mid-'70s, when she decided she needed to discover herself as an artist.

Burroughs' alternately hilarious and horrifying book was lodged on the bestseller lists for weeks, and on Oct. 27 comes a faithful screen version, courtesy of "Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy, with Joseph Cross as young Augusten, Brian Cox as the psychiatrist, and Annette Bening in a standout performance as Augusten's addled, strident, furious mother, Deirdre, a would-be poet.

"She was the Scarlett O'Hara of suburban women," says Murphy. "That whole period I found fascinating for women and [I'm] sympathetic. In 1972, to be a suburban housewife and see Gloria Steinem burning her bra and to hear people tell you that your choices were not valid. And suddenly you wake up and think, 'Maybe I should follow this other passion,' and to have that collide with psychiatry, which my mother also did ... all these things in American culture that dovetail during the period."

After reading an early review of the book, Murphy, whose FX show hadn't yet become a cult sensation, flew to New York to persuade Burroughs to sell him the right to make the movie.

He begged for a meeting at a New York restaurant. "I sat there for five hours and said, 'I will not leave this table until I have the rights. I just won't get up.' It felt like love. I thought, 'I will die if I don't get this.' "

Although Burroughs was entertaining interest from more established players like Mike Nichols, he finally relented.

Murphy spent nine months interviewing Burroughs to flesh out the story, although he already knew many of the emotional hooks. "My mother is very much like Annette's character. There are a lot of scenes from the movie that are from my life and Augusten's. We both put curlers in our mothers' hair. Our mothers would read us their work. Our mothers were these very powerful, glamorous figures who felt trapped, and when you're a child and you see that, it has a very powerful effect on you.

"You're either destroyed by it, or you feel, 'I'm going to find my own personal freedom at any cost,' which is what we both did."

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rachel.abromowitz@latimes.com

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