Original US release date: December 10, 1999
Production budget: $24,000,000
Worldwide gross: $88,545,092
So here’s another #ThrowbackThursday film that’s a first-time watch for me. All I really remembered about The Cider House Rules (besides its distinctive title) was that it starred Charlize Theron. Upon my rediscovery of the film, however (or my first full discovery, as the case may be), I found that the film has much more to offer than the excellent Theron. Sharing the screen with her are Tobey Maguire, Paul Rudd, Michael Caine, and Erykah Badu in her first major film role. Michael Caine won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film in one of the many award nominations it received (including a 2000 Oscar nomination for Best Picture, where it lost out to American Beauty).
I wouldn’t say that The Cider House Rules has been entirely lost or forgotten over time, but it hasn’t exactly remained at the forefront of the public’s memory, either. It stuck with me to some degree, however – despite the fact that I never saw it – perhaps because it was the only Best Picture nominee from 2000’s Academy Awards ceremony that I had never taken the time to watch. Well, no more, my friends.
Based on John Irving’s novel (Irving also wrote the screenplay for the film), The Cider House Rules tells the story of Homer Wells (Maguire), an orphan who never receives the gift of adoption. Growing up in a Maine orphanage and being raised by orphanage director Wilbur Larch (Caine), Homer is trained in the skills of a doctor, though he never receives a formal education. Growing weary of the emotional toll of living a sheltered life in an orphanage, as well as the stress of performing difficult doctoral duties, including abortions, Homer decides to leave, see the world, and pursue a simpler life, elsewhere. When a soldier and his pregnant girlfriend (Rudd and Theron) arrive at the orphanage in need of an abortion, Homer hitches a ride as they leave, with hopes for a more fulfilling future in his heart.
As evidenced by the names mentioned above, the cast more than delivers. Tobey Maguire, still two years away from exploding in popularity following the release of Spider-Man, is the unquestionable lead, with the entire narrative being presented from Homer’s perspective. Homer has never truly felt loved, despite being thoroughly cared for by Larch. His sheltered existence has kept him from both the best and much of the worst that life has to offer. His resulting thirst for discovery and life experience leads to quite a journey and is quenched in some rather unexpected ways. Maguire does a fine job in projecting complex emotions and conveying Homer’s deep internal emotional growth to the audience.
Michael Caine is excellent as always, winning an Oscar, as I mentioned before. Charlize Theron’s star was still rising in 1999. And though she’s now positioned herself as a tough-as-nails, A-list action star (why haven’t you seen Atomic Blonde?!), she has spent her career taking a variety of challenging roles, and her performance here as Candy Kendall was the first that really allowed her to show that she has the talent to back up her presence and charisma. Paul Rudd is best known for his comedic abilities, but he does a fine enough job as Candy’s boyfriend Wally Worthington, even if there’s not much required of him. Delroy Lindo (Malcolm X) is also very powerful as migrant worker Arthur Rose, father of Badu’s Rose Rose (that’s not a typo).
Irving’s story is a good one, and a poignant one, although it’s also fairly simple. That’s not a slight, but I did feel that there wasn’t quite enough story for the running time. And at 126 minutes (including credits), the film isn’t all that long. Perhaps had the film been a more brisk 105 minutes, it wouldn’t have felt quite so prolonged. Only three of the characters have meaningful arcs and while that should be enough to fill a couple of hours with compelling story beats and dialogue, the film sometimes creeps along from one story point to the next, while at other times delivering truly engrossing and riveting character moments and revelations. All in all, it’s time well spent, but a little bit of tightening couldn’t have hurt, in my opinion.
Aside from those points, The Cider House Rules is a beautiful film that addresses the complexities of life and our resistance to seeing the duality of many hot-button issues when presented with something that challenges our own long-held, personal perspectives. Homer learns that there’s so much more to the world than what we each encounter on a daily basis and it takes opening our minds and mixing up our routines – if only just on occasion – in order to sincerely grasp and hopefully understand the difficulties that people outside of our own personal circles often face. A more energetic presentation could have benefited the film and maybe even helped it to reach a wider audience, but an exceptional cast and a poignant message make it a worthy journey. That’s exactly what Homer was looking for. He found it, and you can find it, too, in The Cider House Rules.
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