Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts
Starring: Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes
Director: Ryan Murphy
This dramatisation of the true memoirs of Augusten Burroughs will make you fall on your knees and praise the Lord for your own parentage. Quirky, hilariously funny in places and unbearably sad in others, the film narrates the maze of Burroughs’ incredibly bizarre childhood and how (by some strange force of nature) he managed to survive it.
Augusten (Joseph Cross) is just a young boy when his alcoholic father Norman (Alec Baldwin) finally walks out on his delusional mother Deirdre (the ever marvellous Annette Bening). Having been trapped for years on a self-destructive slippery slope, Norman can no longer ignore the fact that he has no idea how to cope with his wife’s mental illness, and no idea how to connect to his son. Deirdre seeks therapy with Dr Finch (Brian Cox), a charismatic shrink, and a man Augusten is suspicious of from day one. As her mental illness becomes more apparent, and her reliance on Finch’s pills increases, Deirdre, a writer and poet with unfortunate delusions of great success, is torn between being a mother to Augusten and achieving her own creative purpose and fulfilment in life as she believes it to be.
Finally she sends 12 year-old Augusten away to live at Dr Finch’s house, where he is “adopted” by the doctor. Already initiated into the madhouse are Finch’s other “adopted son”, the 35 year-old schizophrenic homosexual Neil Bookman, and Finch’s messed up daughters Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Natalie (Rachel Evan Wood). Not to mention Finch’s wife Agnes (Jill Clayburgh), who snacks on dog kibble.
As he negotiates his way through the techni-coloured world of the manipulative, devious Dr Finch (arguably as mental as his patients), and the complexities of his underage love affair with Bookman, Augusten has to find his own solution and cling to his own hope.
The joys of this film are in the humour and wonderfully strong characterisation, with too many fantastic performances to single out just a handful. The film has an amazingly deft light touch given the weight of the subject matter.
Quirky and brilliant.