The Cider House Rules (1999)

Directed by Lasse Hallström
Written by John Irving, based on his novel
Starring Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

Homer Wells (Maguire) is a young man at an orphanage in Maine, who can never seem to get adopted.  He grows up pretty much within the grounds of the facility, helping the administrator Dr. Larch (Caine) and becoming very proficient at gynecology.  Everything seems to be working out for Homer—he has a use in life, as Dr. Larch keeps insisting he have, he is well loved by all the younger kids at the orphanage, and Dr. Larch is like a father to him.  One day, a young serviceman named Wally (Rudd) shows up with his pregnant girlfriend (Theron) to have matters…sorted out.  Their introduction into Homer's life sets off a chain of events that lead Homer to discover who he is, and most importantly, what use he serves.

This is an interesting film.  Let me tell you what works first: Michael Caine delivering a New England accent.  It's weird, it takes getting used to, but it works…and so does Michael.  Excellent performance.  Singer Erykah Badu plays the daughter of an apple-picking crew boss (Lindo), and turns in a very respectable performance.  The children who make up the cast of characters at the orphanage set the stage for the rest of the film wonderfully.  There's a scene where a couple arrives to pick out a child to adopt; once the kids realize there's a family in the making, they stop their snowball fight, smooth down their hair and do their best to look cute and adorable.  It's a wonderful mix of hope and heartbreak that can't fail to affect.  Following these are obviously well thought out turns by Maguire and Theron, diminished only by the fact that the ending of their particular predicament is never in doubt.  Caine and Maguire work very well off of each other, playing not only the roles of father and son at the time of life where both are certain the other is not quite as smart as they wish they were, put also different opinions on the subject of abortion.  To the film's credit, abortion is merely one of the vehicles by which Homer comes of age, and not the focus, thereby giving only the fanatical whackos something to be concerned about.

However, once we have this great setup at the orphanage, the film seems to lose that poignancy, falling into the aforementioned Maguire/Theron tie up and a subplot regarding Lindo's crew boss.  Though not badly executed, the second part of the film simply can't live up to the simple moment of a couple stopping and watching a little girl smile at them.  What we receive instead is a typewritten set of rules about how to live in the Cider House, and how no one lives by them.  We go from a light to a somewhat heavy touch, and it's a bit disconcerting.

It's not a bad film, and worth viewing for Caine's performance alone, but it's the slight unevenness that accounts for my recommendation to wait and view it on the small screen.

Buy it on DVD from Amazon!

Buy the book from Amazon!
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