15 – 116mins – Comedy/Drama – 2nd February 2007

Strange one this. Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) was born into a dysfunctional family. With his father (Alec Baldwin) an alcoholic and a mentally unstable mother (Annette Bening) who lives in a delusional world where her belief that she has what it takes to become the world’s greatest poet is only surpassed by her attempts to achieve her goal, it’s unsurprising to find that his life has been impacted greatly from a young age.

As he grows into a teenager, his mother signs him away into the custody of her shrink, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox) an equally eccentric man who it seems treats his children as more of an experiment than an actual family. From here it seems that instead of normality, Augusten has leapt from the proverbial frying pan into a immensely large fire. He befriends the two daughters, Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) and in particular Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) as well as Neil (Joseph Fiennes) the most damaged of all of Finch’s children.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure exactly what to make of this film. Is seems intentionally set out to confuse the viewer but then deals with some serious topics amongst all of this. Each individual character is damaged and has serious character flaws that need to be addressed, some more than others. Although I have never read the book of the same name, I hear it sticks to the content closely and is all based on the real life events (I’m assuming more in part than in full) of Augustun Despite this, because of it’s tendency to be so random and with so many things going on it is hard to ground yourself and actually believe that these are real people and not just extreme characters. This made it hard to relate with the characters.

Black comedies of this nature can be rather subjective to the viewer and this will be one of those films that will split the general populous. It’s even fighting a battle in my own mind as write this trying to work it out. I was a fan of the comedy that throws you from one topic to another while the characters remain completely serious, talk about deeply emotional feelings and yet still manage to draw laughs at the same time. For that alone the script and direction have to be commended.

The performances of Benning and Cross also deserve a mention. Benning truly seems engulfed in her own world as she struggles to cope with herself let alone the environment around her and the casting of Benning worked in my eyes as he struggles to better understand himself.

I suppose that if I had to summarise the plot I would call it as a coming of age story albeit a rather warped one. I think the movies tagline says it best- he’s looking forward to a memory he won’t have to suppress and although the film leaves you asking more questions than it answers, something I can’t quite put my finger on made me enjoy it. Not so much that I want to watch it again next week but give it a year or so and I’m sure I will want another dose of Augusten Burroughs and his alternative life.

Rating: C+

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