Abortion, incest and ether – oh my!
Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) is a young man who, for as long as he can remember, grew up in an orphanage. He was given to it when he was just a baby and taken in twice, but rejected and sent back both times, leaving the head of the orphanage, Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), to take him in and teach him everything he needs to know about being a doctor. And by “everything”, I do mean, everything. See, the orphanage is more than just a place where a bunch of kids without any family run around, live in and wait to be adopted by curious families, because Dr. Larch himself actually allows there’s certain people to come in who want an abortion, which, way back when in the 40’s, was downright illegal. One couple in particular is Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron) and her soldier boyfriend (Paul Rudd), who interest Homer so much that he decides to leave with them and see what plan life has set for him next. Somehow though, that plan ends up being on an apple-picking farm, where he encounters all sorts of characters and even falls in love, although the happiness he feels, may not be the same for those that he left behind in the orphanage. Especially not Dr. Larch.
Director Lasse Hallström really did concoct a neat little trick here with the Cider House Rules – while the movie, on the surface, may appear to be an old-timey tale about exploring the world around you and all of the other possibilities, deep down inside, it’s a dark, somewhat rather disturbing tale about being lonely in a world, not knowing where to go with it next and how decisions we make, don’t just affect us for a short time being, but for the rest of our lives. Oh, and there’s a lot of abortions, too; which, to me, was shocking for the longest time in how Hallström presents this as something “illegal”, yet, thankfully doesn’t go any further into that fact and just lets it sit there. Almost as if it’s a fact of life that some people make, and others don’t.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that this movie surprised me once I really what it was actually all about, and also, what I was to expect from the rest of where it was going to go.
But there’s a slight problem with Hallström’s direction, and it’s not in the way that he pictures this story. In fact, quite the opposite – I loved the look of this movie. Not only does it have that old-timey look and feel that we’d get from a movie that was filmed in the 40’s, but the fact that it’s set in the rural lands of Maine makes it feel like something of its own nature (pun intended). In this part of Maine, people sort of go about, do and say as they please. There isn’t much of a hustle and bustle like there is in the city, nor is there a real sense of community like there can be in the suburbs. It’s just a bunch of people, separated from one another, who continue to live on in their own, sometimes secluded lives. Not only does that make it seem like Maine is an essential setting for this kind of story, but that it also gives us an even larger feeling of the loneliness sometimes felt from these characters; a point that this movie doesn’t drive home as much as it totally should have.
That said though, Hallström doesn’t get everything right, and that has more to do with the fact that the movie can’t decide whether it wants to be a real dark and heavy drama you’d see on AMC, or maybe even HBO, or a schmaltzy, sentimental piece of melodrama that you’d probably catch on the Lifetime, or Hallmark channel, had you been flipping through the tube. And because of that, the movie feels disjointed; there are plenty of moments in which a character will reveal something nasty or cruel that they did, but the next second later, we’ll get a montage of Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron frolicking and cuddling in the woods. It makes you wonder who Hallström was trying to please here?
Was he going for the sappy, feel-good vibe that most families want to see, especially around the holidays (when this was released)? Or, does he want to have us think about our own lives and shed some light on the fact that what we think is out there, doesn’t really need to be seen at all? In a way, Hallström tries to have it both ways and it doesn’t always work. Sure, it’s an interesting piece that makes you wonder what would have happened to the final product, had Hallström and writer John Irving (original writer of the book, too) been on the same page the whole entire time (pun intended).
Because not only does it affect the tone of the movie, but it also has the cast feel slightly awkward in certain places where they shouldn’t. Michael Caine won an Oscar for his work here as the realistic-thinking, ether-inhaling Dr. Wilbur Larch, and though he is good, there’s a good portion of this movie in which he doesn’t even show up, leaving you to wonder just what the hell is he up to and why couldn’t we have had just a tad bit more time with him before we had to set off into the rest of the world. Even Tobey Maguire, despite being quite subtle in the only way he knows how to be (sometimes too much so), feels like the sort of character that lingers from place to place, doesn’t really have much of an emotional center, and is there for us to just see what he sees and experience whatever the heck it is that he experiences. Maguire has done this sort of role before and he’s fine with it here, but it still seems like there could have been more done to this character that would have made him somebody else other than just a “protected young guy who wants to see the world”.
The supporting players are better-off, considering that they aren’t paid attention to nearly as much, but even then, some just feel like window-dressing. Charlize Theron does a fine job as the Candy, the girl that eventually becomes the object of Homer’s affection, and while it’s easy to see why she is in fact the one he goes after, we don’t really get to know much more about her, other than that she likes a good time and a nice hump or two; Paul Rudd does some rare dramatic-work here as the boyfriend and isn’t around much to really show his chops off, but is charming enough that we feel bad for him when Homer starts banging his girl; and honestly, it was a shame to see two wonderful actresses like Jane Alexander and Kathy Baker be reduced to playing the “old, yet, sweet orphanage nurses”, whereas we all know they could have definitely done some real damage with a script that serviced them better.
But the one who really walks away with this movie and actually left something of an impression on me is a favorite of mine, Delroy Lindo. Lindo plays the head honcho of the workers from the apple-picking farm known as Mr. Rose and while, on the surface, everything seems all kosher and pleasant with this guy, deep down inside, we begin to find out that there’s something very wrong with him indeed. Which is why, when that area of his character explored, the movie really shocked me and, unsurprisingly enough, is exactly when Lindo’s powerhouse acting came in play. Because through Lindo, we see a truly damaged human being that believes what it is that he does, is regardless of if it’s right or wrong in the real, is his way, in his world and he doesn’t want anybody poking around in his business. It’s interesting to see where this character goes from when we initially meet his bright and smiling mug, to a sad and frowning one, but one could only imagine how much better it would have been for the character, as well as Lindo, had the material here been better.
Consensus: Inherently messy, the Cider House Rules had plenty of interesting ideas, as well as a finely-assembled cast to go along with it, but the script and the direction never seem to come together well enough to create a whole, cohesive story.
6 / 10 = Rental!!
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images