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The Cider House Rules

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Cider House Rules

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 131 Minutes
Release Date: December 1999
Genre: Drama


*Also starring: Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd, Jane Alexander, Kathy Baker, Erykah Badu, Charlize Theron, Kieran Culkin, Kate Nelligan



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Given the concern of the Catholic church to movies it believes defamatory such as "Stigmata" and "Dogma," the big surprise is that no pickets have been thrown outside screenings of "The Cider House Rules." The book by John Irving, wonderfully adapted to the screen by the author himself under the direction of Swedish helmer Lasse Hallstrom, makes a clear statement in favor of a woman's right to choose. The principal performer, who has been coached by an experienced physician in the art of delivering babies, refuses on moral grounds to join his mentor in aborting fetuses of women who ask him to do so. Yet he sees the light later on and freely helps a woman who is the victim of incest and who is desperate to end her two-months'-old pregnancy.

The film is only peripherally about abortion and is in no way designed as a clever masquerade for pro-choice propaganda. John Irving's screenplay--which condenses his massive book's study of 15 years in the life of a man into just one and one-half--is a coming of age drama in the best sense of the term. Devoid of sticky sentimentality and utilizing cutesy images sparingly, this 131-minute film features ensemble work of high order particularly from Michael Caine (once accused of a willingness to make just about any movie for money) and from Tobey Maguire as a lad who needs to break out of an insular, though happy, environment to find out who he really is. Box office can hardly be damaged by the presence of the dazzling Charlize Theron, perhaps the most attractive young actress in the business, who shows this time that being an astronaut's wife earlier this year was simply a redeemable error.

Opening in St. Clouds, Maine, during the mid-1940s shortly after America's entry into war, the story focuses on an orphanage run by the good-hearted Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), who not only delivers babies from women who do not want them but takes the infants into his friendly institution until they can become adopted. Though this is no Dickensian establishment--Dr. Larch shows movies, reads to the kids at bedtime, and wishes good night in an authentic New England accent to "you princes of Maine, you kings of New England--the tots are nonetheless eager to be adopted. They paste on their most adorable expressions when would-be parents come to look them over. The doctor's favorite, Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), is twice adopted and twice returned, but Larch takes him under his wing and, as the boy matures, he is taught how to deliver babies though the lad has never been even to high school.

While Homer is understandably the happiest of the orphanage's inmates, he has not been out of Maine nor has he seen the ocean. Impulsively he quits the establishment and hitches a ride with a soldier, Wally Worthington (Paul Rudd), and his girl friend Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron), and takes a job picking apples at Candy's mother's place where he befriends a group of migrant workers under the supervision of Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo). Two dramatic occurrence are to change Homer's life: his intensifying relationship with Candy after Wally departs for service in Burma; and his dilemma when a victim of incest asks him to perform an abortion. Not until Homer confronts the prospective father--who, like Ray Winsome's character in Tim Roth's searing "The War Zone" becomes incensed with the accusation--does director Hallstrom kick in with the story's melodramatic flourishes.

Homer learns that he is not the only person faced with making big decisions with his life. Candy, who has fallen in love with him, must decide what she will do when her boy friend comes home from the war. Rose (Erykah Badu), who is the victim of incest, must overcome her reluctance to make a decision about her pregnancy. Her dad must face up to his responsibility and determine a course of action for himself. Ultimately, Homer has seen enough of life to make a decision about his own future.

Curiously enough, the film--which is a winning one in all respects--does not become more involving once the conflicts go into high gear. Its most pleasurable aspects for the viewer are taking in the gorgeous autumnal atmosphere of Maine (actually filmed in Massachusetts), gazing at the exceptional beauty of Charlize Theron, and observing the interplay between Dr. Larch, a childless father to a band of lovely youngsters, and his protege, the impressionable and wholesome Homer. Coincidentally, Tobey Maguire, in a lead role in Ang Lee's "Ride with the Devil," connects with an actress who is primarily a singer (Jewel) while in "Cider House Rules" he plays adviser to still another performer who is known principally as a vocalist (Erykah Badu). The title comes from a list of regulations posted in the apple orchard, rules that are not made up by the migrants who must follow them and who therefore do not feel compelled to obey them. Presumably, this serves as metaphor for Homer's situation: as a disciple of Dr. Larch, he must go by the rules which an outside force imposes on him. Not until he finds his own way can Homer truly comply with more authentic directives--which must come from his own head. John Irving's book about the need for family and purpose fits perfectly on the screen.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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