The Cider House Rules

Date:    February 26, 2000


Dr. Larch - Michael Caine
Homer Wells - Tobey Maguire
Candy Kendall - Charlize Theron
Mr. Rose - Delroy Lindo
Wally Worthington - Paul Rudd

Director: Lasse Hallestrom

The Cider House Rules is an adaptation of a story by John Irving. The title character, Homer Wells, is unsure of his "business" in life is and the movie follows his journey and search to find this in himself. In Simon Birch, the last adaptation of an Irving novel, the title character lived life to its fullest, all the while having knowledge of his destiny and where he was going in life. Irving seems to focus on not as much writing stories, as writing tales of that which all of us go through at some time in life. The search for the discovery of who we are, and what makes us so. Since I have not read the book of Cider House Rules, I cannot fairly judge how well the story is adapted. What I can judge is how effective the movie is at conveying its message, and in an unexciting, bland and predictable way, it does work.

Homer Wells is a lifetime orphan, living in the St. Clouds Boys home in Maine. The home is headed by Dr. Larch, a lover of the hope that blooms in the eyes of children. He takes a shine to Homer, even sacrificing himself to make Homer realize what the Dr. thinks he already knows. Thus begins the Homer’s journey into discovery. I could tell from the first frame, where this movie was going to end up, I just wasn’t sure how it was going to get there. However once a topic, storyline, or character is introduced, I could see exactly where each was going and how it was going to end up. In these movies, the success depends upon how well the trip is regaled. For the most part, Cider House stays between the lines of nice and easy storytelling. The failures of the film come when it strays from the beaten path. The risks and chances taken, seem forced, out of place, and unnecessary. Whether these are the fault of Irving, or director Lasse Hallestrom, I cannot say, but when you see what they are, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In the hands of a great director/storyteller, a trip outside the lines can be done naturally, and in a smooth flow. However Hallestrom’s self-created path is littered with unnecessary rocks. It’s like giving a teenager a paint brush and expecting the Mona Lisa, you may get something nice to look at, but far from inspiring as it should be.

The performances are very strong, with what they are given to do. Caine’s performance is lauded by many, including the academy, however, its not a stretch. He’s such a good actor, that even when he’s going through the motions, it is a marvel to watch. I just feel that in a year filled with such great supporting performances, namely 2 from Chris Cooper, Caine’s role is one that should be noticed, but not necessarily rewarded. In fact, I felt that Maguire did a better job, showing a nice range of emotions and wide-eyed wonderment at what the world had to offer him. Since Pleasantville, I have taken notice of his work, and in the right role, could be primed for superstardom.

Ultimately, Cider House is just really well told version, of a plain old story. It is nothing to jump up and down, nor blow any horns about. I cannot understand the Academy casting all of this praise here, and completely overlooked October Sky, another simple tale, that was much better told, and much more inspirational. When it comes right down to it, sometimes simplicity, is the best way to get a point across. Sometimes the harder you try, the more you muddle things up. Do not force, or darken the issue, unless it fits into the flow of how things should be. Had Hallestrom followed this advice, he’d have a true masterpiece on his hands. As it is now, he simply has a movie that is nice to watch, look at, and enjoy, but once its over, the effect will fade quickly from memory. Save this one for a nice Sunday afternoon, enjoy some cider, and once its over, think not about the movie, but what it could’ve been.  ($$1/2 out of $$$$)

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