Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:11 - Released 12/17/99

The Cider House Rules is the kind of New England tale that author John Irving is known for. It blends romance with the love of children, the warmth of family with the darker side of human nature, and the all-encompassing belief that everything has a purpose. The fact that this time Irving penned the screen adaptation of his own novel (unlike all the previous movies inspired by his books) results in a film much more true to its source material and much the better for it. Moreover, the work of Swedish director Lasse Hallström (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) and proven talent like Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine, and Charlize Theron ensures a quality production equal to its original text.

The film is set during World War II, partly in the small town of St. Cloud's, Maine, home of an orphanage where young, unhappily pregnant women come to leave their babies for adoption (or, in some cases, receive illegal abortions), and partly at a seaside apple orchard where migrant workers return every year to pick fruit and press cider. Homer Wells (Maguire) is born and abandoned at St. Cloud's, and although a few tries are made at placing him with a family, it never seems to work out. As he grows, he begins serving as assistant to the facility's physician, Dr. Wilbur Larch (Caine, sporting a flawless American accent). Over the years, though never attending medical school, Homer becomes an excellent obstetrician in Dr. Larch's own image, except for two differences: Homer Wells is not addicted to ether, and Homer Wells does not perform abortions.

When a young couple (Theron and Paul Rudd) come to terminate their unwanted pregnancy, Homer decides to hitch a ride with them and leave St. Cloud's to seek his fortune. Something about Wally and Candy impresses him, and he winds up on the orchard owned by Wally's family, picking apples with a small group of workers headed by Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo). Among the workers is the only female, Mr. Rose's daughter Rose Rose (Erykah Badu), whom Candy is quite fond of, and several others. When Wally is shipped off to the war, Homer and Candy fall in love, and he soon learns that some rules were made to be broken.

This is a touching story, well-performed by its cast, accoutered with beautiful scenery and a lovely musical score by Rachel Portman. The scenes in the orphanage are especially moving, with supporting performances by Kieran Culkin and Erik Sullivan as a couple of younger friends on whom Homer leaves a lasting impression. However, director Hallström seems to have intentionally slowed the pace after Homer leaves the orphanage. His relationship with Candy is sweet (pardon the pun), but there is no urgency to their passion, and therefore her claim not to be "good at being alone" seems like a weak alibi for her betrayal of Wally. Likewise, Maguire is excellent at showing Homer's wonderment at experiencing life outside St. Cloud's, but emotionally he seems rather flat. Even when Homer is at his most spirited moments, like approaching Mr. Rose about an especially disturbing issue, or discussing his relationship with Candy after it is learned Wally is coming home, Maguire is tepid and his energy low.

Despite the sluggish nature of its pace and character relationships, The Cider House Rules is still an excellent film worthy of its recent Oscar nominations. ****½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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