The Cider House Rules
Many writers will express dissatisfaction when one of their novels is
turned into a movie. By virtue of the differences between the two
mediums, pertinent parts of the fiction are often omitted or telescoped.
Characters are composited and plot strands jettisoned. Sometimes a fine
film can emerge (think "Gone With the Wind"), sometimes not (see any
feature film based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels).
There are those novelists (like Fitzgerald) who tried their hand in
Tinseltown, yet those who were truly successful number in the few. As
the millennium approaches, Hollywood seemingly has turned to the
bookshelves for inspiration with some 10 motion pictures based on
literary properties hitting the screen in December alone. Among them is
"The Cider House Rules," the long awaited screen adaptation of John
Irving's popular novel.
Apparently, Irving was not very pleased when filmmakers undertook
previous film versions of his work. While "The World According to Garp"
(1982) was a moderate success and brought Oscar nominations to
supporting players Glenn Close and John Lithgow, "The Hotel New
Hampshire" (1984) was an artistic and box-office disappointment. When "A
Prayer for Owen Meany" was turned into 1998's treacly "Simon Birch,"
Irving distanced himself and his novel from the finished project.
"The Cider House Rules" clearly held special meaning to the author, and
he spent close to 15 years shepherding it to the screen (Irving detailed
how this was achieved in the recently published "My Movie Business: A
Memoir"). Writing the screenplay adaptation, Irving cannot blame anyone
for tampering with his Dickensian novel. Ironically, around the time the
film went into production under the sure hand of Lasse Hallstrom, the
Seattle Repertory Co. was presenting a two-part, six-hour play that
captured the novel.
Irving distilled the essence of the story and abandoned several
prominent plots for this two-hour film. Yet, as screenwriter, he does
manage to pack in quite a lot: abortion, love, death and the search to
find one's place in the world.
Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine, in a creditable American accent) runs
the St. Cloud Orphanage where one particular charge, Homer Wells (a fine
Tobey Maguire), proves difficult to place. Eventually, Homer becomes
Larch's surrogate son, training under him and assisting in delivering
babies, yet refusing to participate in the good doctor's activity of
performing illegal abortions.
When a spirited young couple, Candy and Wally (a terrific Charlize
Theron and a blandly underused Paul Rudd) arrive to partake of Larch's
services, Homer impulsively decides to accompany them. Thus, he begins
an odyssey that lands him a job working for Wally's mother at her apple
orchard alongside a band of migrant fruit pickers (played by Delroy
Lindo, K. Todd Freeman, Heavy D and Erykah Badu). Over the course of a
year's time, Homer truly comes of age by falling in love with Candy and
facing a momentous decision that alters his life.
As he has proven in earlier films, director Hallstrom has an affinity
for tales centered on young men, and he once again directs with skill
and grace. Oliver Stapleton's cinematography lends a clean, handsome
look to the film.
The performances from the principals are uniformly terrific, with
Maguire fulfilling his potential as a leading man, Caine offering a fine
turn as Larch and Lindo crafting a chilling portrait of a man with
secrets. Although there is a slightly rushed feeling to the ending, and
it does not compare with a reading of the novel, "The Cider House Rules"
proves engaging and entertaining.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for mature thematic elements, sexuality, nudity,
substance abuse and some violence.
"The Cider House Rules"
Tobey Maguire: Homer Wells
Charlize Theron: Candy Kendall
Delroy Lindo: Mr. Rose
Paul Rudd: Wally Worthington
Michael Caine: Doctor Wilbur Larch
Erykah Badu: Rose Rose
A Miramax presentation. Director Lasse Hallstrom. Screenplay and novel
John Irving. Producer Richard N. Gladstein. Director of photography
Oliver Stapleton. Editor Lisa Zeno Churgin. Music Rachel Portman.
Production designer David Gropman. Costume designer Renee Ehrlich
Kalfus. Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes.