Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules


USA 1999, dir. Lasse Hallstrom, stars Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine, Charlize Theron

Cider House Rules is an entertaining, manipulative, but uneven tearjerker adapted from his own novel by John Irving. Film is split into two sections. In the first, we are introduced to a New England orphanage during World War II, presided over by kindly Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), ether addict and benign abortionist. One of the orphans, Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) is never adopted by an outside family and ends up as a kind of son of the institution and Dr Larch’s assistant. The second part of the film sees Homer leaving the orphanage to see the world. He ends up on a cider farm where most of the other workers are black. The drama of the film concerns an incestuous relationship among the farm hands, Homer’s romance with the wife of the cider farmer’s son, and whether or not he will go back to work at the orphanage.

Directed in solid, old-fashioned style by Hallstrom, Cider House is terrifically engaging during all the scenes in the orphanage, aided immensely by the sympathetic performances by Maguire, Caine, the actresses who play the nurses and the little kids who play the orphans. It goes for shameless sentimental effects but manages to pull them all off, and it’s a tribute to the success of the first half of the movie that the remainder feels so unsatisfactory in comparison. As ever with Irving, he basically overloads and overextends his plots with twists and eccentric touches, and very little of the goings on at the cider farm ever really rings true. Homer’s final return to the orphanage does provide a powerful and satisfying climax, but isn’t really enough to paper over the problems of the preceding section.

On this evidence – and taking into account the similarly flawed World According To Garp, Hotel New Hampshire and Simon Birch – Irving’s novels are not very suitable for translation to the screen.

by Neil Young