The Cider House Rules is a neatly packaged tale of growing-up, alternating between an orphanage and an apple farm in Maine, USA, during World War II.Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) is the oldest child at St Cloud's orphanage, run by obstetrician Dr Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine). By the time he's a young adult, Wells has learnt virtually all Larch can teach him about delivering - and aborting - babies, although he decides he wants nothing to do with the latter. When a young couple his own age - Wally (Paul Rudd) and Candy (Charlize Theron) - arrive to procure an abortion for Candy, Homer decides it's time to experience life outside the orphanage and beyond Dr Larch's reach. He spends a year living in the cider house at Wally's apple farm and working a season with the itinerant (mostly black) apple pickers.
In adapting his lengthy novel for the screen, John Irving has condensed 15 or so years of action into two, combined characters and discarded a lot of background and subplots. But he still retains the essence of his novel, and should be congratulated for letting the film shape his material and not vice versa. The Cider House Rules boasts a talented and varied ensemble cast. Caine and Maguire nail the key roles beautifully, and Delroy Lindo and Erykah Badu also leave a strong impression as father and daughter apple pickers (Lindo had a tougher job winning me over since he is so physically different from my mental image of Mr Rose from reading the book). Rudd and Theron don’t bring as much depth to their characters, but get by looking on right for the parts.Director Lasse Hallstrom has certainly come a long way since ABBA: The Movie. But something’s missing from this comfortable, conventional film - it feels like all the rough edges have been smoothed out of the material. A bit of the spark and energy that made his ABBA footage so alive is absent.