John Irving's sprawling novels have mainly followed the quest
of a misunderstood youth to find his own place in the world (The World
According To Garp, Simon Birch, etc). But they have never been easy
to adapt for the screen, with many subplots and characters being
ditched altogether. The Cider House Rules however marks the first
time that Irving has adapted one of his own novels for the screen.
This brings a reverence to its treatment of the text, the characters
and the themes. However, Irving's screenplay is still too literary,
and he tends to down play many of the darker elements of the story -
abortion, incest, etc. The narrative also unfolds at a rather
ponderous pace that eventually diminishes much of its emotional
This charming coming of age story takes place in Maine during
the early 1940's. The hero, Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire, from
Pleasantville, etc), has been raised in St Clouds orphanage. Dr Larch
(Michael Caine, in one of his best performances for years) takes an
almost paternal interest in the welfare of his charges, but he has a
soft spot for Homer, whom he trains as his assistant. Dr Larch also
performs abortions on demand, even though they are illegal.
But Homer feels that there is more to life than helping Larch
at the orphanage and decides to strike out on his own, hoping to
experience more of the world. When the beautiful Candy (Charlize
Theron, from The Astronaut's Wife, etc) and her fighter pilot
boyfriend (Paul Rudd, from Clueless, etc) come to the orphanage for an
abortion, Homer leaves with them. He works in an apple orchard.
There he slowly falls in love with Candy, and is also drawn into the
personal lives of his fellow workers. During his mini-odyssey, Homer
comes to realise his destiny and find his place in the world. He
ultimately learns that, unlike his time at the orphanage, life and
love do not always follow a neatly ordered set of rules. Indeed, some
rules were meant to be broken.
The ensemble cast deliver solid performances. Maguire
delivers a mature and subtle performance in the central role of Homer,
and one can see his character grow in strength and self confidence as
the film develops. However, it is Caine who is most impressive. He
just seems to get better with age, and delivers one of his more well
rounded characterisations as the unhappy but deeply caring Dr Larch.
Swedish director Lasse Hallstom (My Life As A Dog, What's
Eating Gilbert Grape, etc) handles the material with intelligence, but
without any real sense of compassion or warmth. Hallstrom only came
aboard when original director Phillip Borsos died of leukaemia and
Michael Winterbottom departed, citing creative differences with
Irving. However, Oliver Stapleton's cinematography is gorgeous, and
visually the film is a joy to watch.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King