The Cider House Rules

The writing is on the wall, but the performances and situations leap off the screen in director Lasse Hallstrom’s delicate “The Cider House Rules.” Based on John Irving’s coming-of-age novel, “The Cider House Rules” is a heartfelt Valentine to the wonder of the human spirit.

ciderhouserulesThe writing on the wall is a list of rules posted inside a migratory farm worker’s bungalow. They don’t mean much to the current occupants, who can’t even read the list. It’s only when educated newcomer Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) arrives to help pick apples that the farm workers are aware of the rules, which they instantly dismiss.

The leader of the workers, Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo), declares that each man has to live by his own rules. Words of wisdom that are at the core of “The Cider House Rules.” Rules are made and broken in Irving’s touching screenplay, which deals with weighty issues but never feels top heavy.

Irving’s word flow like poetry, creating a dynamic rhythm that never misses a beat. Thanks to a talented cast and assured direction, Irving’s characters are so memorable and alive they transcend the written text. Even though the film is set in the 1940s, you feel you know these people.

Maguire, whose presence is always felt, is excellent as the young man who grows up in a loving yet poor orphanage in Maine. Michael Caine, always the consummate actor, is exceptional as Dr. Wilbur Larch, chief physician and caretaker at the St. Cloud Orphanage. Larch is a loving man who treats the boys and girls at the orphanage as his own.

Larch delights in naming the children after characters from Dickens (the “Oliver Twist” references are apparent), and reading to them at bedtime. The only chinks in his armor are the occasional dalliance with a nurse and his addiction to ether.

After rescuing a young Homer from an abusive family, Larch takes him under his wings and provides him with enough medical knowledge to assist in the facility’s numerous births.

Even though he is comfortable with his life, Homer dreams of seeing the world. He gets his chance when a young couple arrive at the orphanage for an abortion. Homer is against the procedure, but finds himself drawn to the young woman, Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron in a beautifully tempered performance).

Candy is there with her fiancee Wally Worthington (Paul Rudd), an Air Force pilot getting ready to ship off to war. The couple agree to allow Homer to tag along with them, where he ends up picking apples.

The change of scenery and manual labor do a lot to clear Homer’s mind and open his eyes. He welcomes each new experience with enthusiasm, including first love with Candy. Homer also learns first hand how cruel and unfair the world can be.

Director Lasse Hallstrom does an exceptional job of realizing Irving’s vision. Thanks to Oliver Stapleton’s exquisite cinematography that feels nostalgic yet new, and David Gropman’s perfect production design, Hallstrom nails down the time and place.

Yet it is the tenderness and naturalness of the characters and situations that rings true. Sad yet never maudlin, “The Cider House Rules” emerges as a film of hope and not despair. You find yourself seeing life through the character’s eyes, experiencing things for the first time. There is honest joy in watching Homer discover the ocean for the first time, or joining in a snowball fight with the children, or watching the children react to a showing of “King Kong.”

The controversial moments in “The Cider House Rules” (abortion, incest) are dealt with honestly and without apology. It would have been so easy to use the film as a platform. The filmmakers are more interested in telling a story than making a statement.

There are many pleasures in watching “The Cider House Rules.” Irving’s screenplay captures the essence of his novel without making too many sacrifices. Familiar Irving themes haunt the story, including sickly children, the absence of a mother figure, extended family, and sexual awakening.

There isn’t one bad performance in the film. Delroy Lindo is commanding as Mr. Rose, while Jane Alexander and Kathy Baker are simply marvelous as Dr. Larch’s assistants. You sense that these two know Dr. Larch better than he does.

Delivered with the beauty of a picture postcard, “The Cider House Rules” warms the heart and touches the soul. It is honest and emotional, and leaves you with the feeling that there is indeed no place like home.



Tobey Maguire Michael Caine, Charlize Theron, Paul Rudd, Delroy Lindo, Jane Alexander, Kathy Baker, Kieran Culkin, Heavy D and Kate Nelligan in a film directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Rated PG-13. 129 Minutes.


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