The Cider House Rules

The worst nightmare of an author is when a movie botches his/her book so badly that it is unrecognizable. This nightmare came true for author John Irving a last year, when the movie Simon Birch was released. The movie, nothing close to what Irving wanted, is based on his book, A Prayer For Owen Meany. So what is an author to do? In Irving's (who also penned the book The World According to Garp) case, he personally adapted The Cider House Rules for the screen. The book and movie is the story of Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire, Ride With the Devil, Pleasantville), an orphan living in Maine. Thus, if someone says the book is different from the movie, it is okay, since the author did what he could to keep the story intact, both in sequence and in heart.

Homer lives in an orphanage run by Dr. Larch (Michael Caine, The Muppet Christmas Story, Little Voice), a strong, loving patriarch who ends the day with "Goodnight you princes of Maine, you Kings of New England." Homer is the boy who is never able to get adopted. Consequently, he becomes Larch's aide, helping the doctor to deliver babies and taking care of the other orphans (for a bedtime story, he reads David Copperfield - get it?). Larch is grooming Homer to become his replacement, something that Homer is not sure he wants. In fact, does not know what he wants at all. When Candy (Charlize Theron, Celebrity, The Astronaut's Wife) and her boyfriend Wally (Paul Rudd, 200 Cigarettes, The Object of My Affection) come to the orphanage, Homer decides to leave with them to find himself. The Cider House Rules is about Homer, looking for who he really is. Wally's family grows apples, and Wally takes Homer in as an apple picker. Homer lives with a group of migrant workers, led by Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo, Ransom, The Devil's Advocate). Homer adapts quickly to his life as an apple picker, and begins to enjoy it. Wally leaves to fight in World War II, and Candy and Homer inevitably become closer.

The Cider House Rules is lovingly directed by Lasse Hallstrom, the director of What's Eating Gilbert Grape and A Life Less Ordinary. The only real narrative is the story of Homer's life; the rest is a series of experiences that Homer lives through. Maguire is perfectly cast as Homer, an innocent young man eager to see the world. In his life, he has never seen the ocean, and only seen one movie. The other actors also shine in their roles, particularly Caine (whose British accent is nowhere to be found) and Lindo, whose Mr. Rose, while strong, loving and charismatic, is ultimately flawed. Theron redeems herself as an actress after a silly turn in The Astronaut's Wife, and singer Erykah Badu glows in her acting debut as Rose Rose. All of the characters are real people, with hopes and dreams that they cannot always attain.

The level of emotion is constant and high, thanks in part to Rachel Portman's gentle, understated score. The music highlights the near idyllic settings of the orphanage, the apple fields, and other locations in the film including the beach and a train station. All of the principle locations are found in the New England area, in pristine condition. It is heartbreaking to watch the children of the orphanage say goodbye to Homer, one of the only constants in their lives. After he leaves, Larch is afraid that Homer is so entranced with the wonders of the world that he will not return, but in reality Larch is masking his own grief for the loss of a boy he loves as a son. On the other hand, Homer takes in a whole lifetime of learning within the confines of the movie. What people learn about love, loss and life in general is experienced by Homer over a short amount of time. The only distasteful element of the film deals with Dr. Larch's performing abortions, but even this plays a crucial part of the story, paving the way for Homer's decision to leave, and later in the film, at another turning point in his life. The Cider House Rules is a beautiful film in every respect.

Haro Rates It: Really Good
2 hours, 10 minutes, Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexuality, nudity, substance abuse and some violence.

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