The Squid and the Whale/Running With Scissors [Blu-Ray] Noah Baumbach/Ryan Murphy

The Squid and the Whale/Running With Scissors [Blu-Ray] Noah Baumbach/Ryan Murphy
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Apart from being loosely linked by their autobiographical stories of dysfunctional families, Running With Scissors and The Squid and the Whale couldn't be more different films. Where Squid is a lean, focused and darkly comic window into how divorce affects a family, Scissors is a weird, unpleasant mess that's rescued from being an outright failure only by a few effective performances. Writer/director Noah Baumbach realized his creative peak with Squid, harnessing the potential he had shown previously with Kicking and Screaming by looking back on his painful upbringing. Right from the start, the lines within the Berkman family are drawn in the sand even before Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) decide to separate. The teenage Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) takes after his father, while the younger and more sensitive Frank (Owen Kline) follows in his mother's footsteps. Everyone deals with the eventual rift in different ways, lashing out with childish actions and brilliantly barbed dialogue deliberately intended to harm or at least elicit some kind of reaction in others. The performances are uniformly excellent, especially Daniels as a pompous but floundering novelist trying to cope with his ex's newfound writing success and the philistine tennis pro (Billy Baldwin) she has decided to date. In contrast, Ryan Murphy's (Glee) adaptation of Augusten Burrough's personal memoir can't help but feel false in spite of its basis in reality. After all, there are not many who have experienced the specific kind of hardship Augusten (Joseph Cross) finds himself saddled with. He has grown up with an unstable mother (Annette Bening), whose lack of financial success has not deterred her belief that she is an important poet forever seeking to tap into her "creative unconscious." After suffering a breakdown that chases away her husband (Alec Baldwin), she is paid a visit by highly unorthodox psychiatrist Dr. Finch (Brian Cox). Before long, Augusten has been forced to live in the doctor's big house with Finch's wife, Agnes (Jill Clayburgh), and daughters Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) while barely seeing his in-treatment mother. Besides allowing Bening to take her trademark high-strung act to scary new heights, the movie awkwardly struggles to find an appropriate tone for the material. For someone like Murphy, who has made a name for himself on a show that prominently features musical numbers, his use of pop songs and score here consistently seems at odds with the action. Perhaps sensing the packaging of the two films was enough of a value, there are no extras included for either film. (eOne)