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The Cider House Rules is adapted by John Irving from his novel, the first time he's done the job himself. As always, we make no comparisons to the Source Material but you can rest assured that, in this case, what you are getting is pure Irving. That means, if you haven't read "The World According to Garp" or "The Hotel New Hampshire" or "A Prayer For Owen Meany," you get enough layers of story to make a symbolic cake. And every individual story is a good one.
The older you get, the better you understand the concept of need versus want. When you're small, you whine to your parents that you really, really, really need something. When you are of age, most of us want a spouse to make children to love and care for and carry on. When you are elderly, you want to think you made a difference; that something you did mattered to someone, somewhere. In the end, some times we don't get what we want and some times we do.
Some times, we need to do things that we don't want to.
Which brings us to the orphanage at St. Clouds, Maine. All the children that are left here, for whatever reason, or birthed here, by unwed mothers, want parents to love them and take them home. The baby called Homer Wells was one of the lucky ones, taken almost immediately to a new home. But the family brought him back. This happened not once but twice, so Homer grew up as a surrogate son to the home's resident physician, Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine). The full grown Homer (Tobey Maguire), trained and medically proficient at all ob/gyn surgical skills would have been, in his "father's" eyes, a fine successor except for the one thing the Elder will do that Homer will not. So, Homer hitches a ride with the young couple who leave the orphanage, childless, in March of 1943.
Homer joins Lt. Wally Worthington (Paul Rudd) at the serviceman's apple orchard, and signs as a picker, living with the migrants down in the Cider House. Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron) returns home to Maine's shore, where her dad is a lobster fisherman. When Wally returns to Service, Homer and Candy bond. Like, you know . . . and while Homer and Dr. Larch continue to exchange letters, Homer refuses to come back and "play God in the Doctor business."
Homer likes picking apples and harvesting lobsters. He likes losing his naïveté to the lovely Candy. He learns how the less fortunate minority workers, in this case a Negro group directed by Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo) live. He sees the ocean. He confronts the reality of the War. Central to his story is the moral decision that must be faced when, in his second year at the orchard, Mr. Rose's daughter, Rose (Erykah Badu) becomes pregnant.
Irving's screenplay, director Lasse Hallström and a lot of exceptional performers walk the razor sharp line that a story that uses the right or wrong of abortion as a subplot implies. Part of Michael Caine's character arc deals non-verbally with what could be interpreted to indicate guilt. Part of Tobey Maguire's character arc could be interpreted to mean he has second thoughts. The important words in the last two sentences are "could" and "interpreted". The Cider House Rules does not preach. It presents verbal and non-verbal arguments for both sides in ways that let your imaginations do most of the work, The film leaves an open ending which could be seen as allowing for either side of the issue. As I've written before, I usually detest open endings but, in this case, it is the correct ending. You will have much to talk about when you leave the theater.
We've seen a lot of good work from Tobey Maguire in the last couple of years. His performance in The Cider House Rules is a quantum step forward. Michael Caine deftly underplays his most important scenes. Delroy Lindo is dead on in a role whose biggest surprise will not be revealed here, and none of the "newcomers" (meaning Badu, the singer) drop the ball in sequences set at the orchard where the meaning of the film's title becomes clear. In addition, there are several sequences involving the kidlets at the orphanage, specifically Fuzzy (Eric Per Sullivan), a sickly youngster; Curly (Spencer Diamond), a cute kid desperate not to grow old in St. Clouds and Buster (Kieran Culkin), the kidlet who has grown old there. Those, plus some beautifully subtle character work by Jane Alexander and Kathy Baker make The Cider House Rules one of the best of the year.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Cider House Rules, he would have paid...
Hands down, darn fine film making all across the board.
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