Young Augusten Burroughs absorbs experiences that could make for a shocking memoir: the son of an alcoholic father and an unstable mother, he's handed off to his mother's therapist, Dr. Finch, and spends his adolescent years as a member of Finch's bizarre extended family.
The story of how a boy was abandoned by his mother and how he, later, abandoned her. The year he'll be 14, the parents of Augusten Burroughs (1965- ) divorce, and his mother, who thinks of herself as a fine poet on the verge of fame, delivers him to the eccentric household of her psychiatrist, Dr. Finch. During that year, Augusten avoids school, keeps a journal, and practices cosmetology. His mother's mental illness worsens, he takes an older lover, he finds friendship with Finch's younger daughter, and he's the occasional recipient of gifts from an unlikely benefactor. Can he survive to come of age?Written by
Contains some moments of brilliance amongst a pedestrian treatment
Well, one thing you can't say about this film is that it doesn't try to be different, even if it ultimately resembles a number of independent US 'dysfunctional family' movies. The trouble is it sometimes comes across as being too clever and, for all its quirky characters - who should be drawing you into their world and lives - the film stubbornly holds the audience at arm's length. This is a major weakness, because it leaves you feeling like you're watching animals in a zoo or specimens under a microscope rather than real people with real emotions.
The immediate suspicion about memoirs is that they are the memories (real or manufactured - but that's an entirely different can of worms) of just one person in the story, and that the other characters have no opportunity to provide their side of that story. The real-life Finch family brought legal action against Augusten Burroughs for the way they were portrayed and the case was settled out of court by Burrough's publishers. This could have been because they didn't want to get involved in a potentially damaging and expensive court case, or it might have been because the Finches had a strong case - either way the fact of the settlement is bound to cast some doubt over the truth of Burrough's tale.
With regards to the film itself, it's something of a trudge for the most part. This is despite the fact that every single part is played to perfection by an eclectic cast. Brian Cox, whose career appears to become more successful the older he gets, is especially good as the crackpot psychiatrist who adopts the 15-year-old Burroughs (Joseph Cross), welcoming him into an eccentric and disturbed family. Annette Bening also gives a terrific performance, even though her character becomes increasingly annoying as the film goes on (only Jill Clayburgh and Alec Baldwin's characters emerge with any kind of dignity). Although the film tends to drag at times, when it shines it really shines, especially with the use of some well-chosen songs from the 70s. The sequence played out to Al Stewart's Year of the Cat is particularly memorable, and it's a shame that these moments are distributed so sparingly amongst the more pedestrian material.
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