The Cider House Rules (1999)
Main cast: Tobey Maguire (Homer Wells), Michael Caine (Dr Wilbur Larch), and Charlize Theron (Candy Kendall)
Director: Lasse Hallström

The Cider House Rules is a grand old-style movie in a more laid-back pace. It tells the story of an orphan Homer Wells who grows up in the Cider House, an orphanage up on a hill in Maine. Cider House is run by Dr Larch, a man whose increasing jadedness over the number of abandoned babies at the doorstep gives him no qualms in performing abortions for women who request for one. Homer is raised to take over from Larch, and the young man, while excelling beyond Larch's expectations, soon begin to rebel over the responsibility placed on his shoulders.

Homer is raised to be a false person, a doctor who has no formal education and who holds a forged degree. Larch tells two of his potential foster parents that "Homer is named after the grand Greek author" but in truth, Homer comes from Larch's cat and Wells because one of the nurses has a relative working in the oil fields. Homer wants some privacy and space for his own, and a chance to follow his own dreams.

When a couple, Wally (Paul Rudd) and Candy come to Cider House for an abortion to be performed on Candy, Homer takes the opportunity to go with them and find work as an apple-picker in Wally's apple orchards. Wally heads off to fight in the Second World War, and Homer discovers friendship with his fellow apple-pickers and experiences his first love with Candy.

Homer's self-discovery is bittersweet, tinged with resignation as well as wistfulness when in the end he discovers that sometimes destiny isn't something you can walk away from, and that obligations made out of love can be the most binding, even at the cost of one's heart's desires. But I love this movie - I really do. It is so beautifully paced that while it is slow, time flies. I am absorbed, I am enthralled by the subtle acting from the cast as well as John Irving's simple yet elegant screenplay (based on his 1995 novel by the way). Tobey Maguire is bland, but his blandness becomes Homer beautifully. Michael Caine also performs a magnificent job as a gruff man whose only flaw is that he loved too much to let go. Larch is a man noble yet pitiful at the same time, but in the end, he is all too human, a wonderful one at that. Who can forget his nightly goodbye to the boys after storytelling session, "Goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of England!"?

The supporting cast is great too. Theron proves that she isn't just a pretty airhead, giving great depths to her role as a woman who can't handle loneliness on her own. Delroy Lindo and soul diva Erykah Badu are wonderful as two apple pickers with a dark secret that would challenge Homer's beliefs.

Beautiful, elegant, and moving coming-of-age story. No, I'm not bothered by the abortion angle - I'd rather not nitpick and go all Feminist or Pro-Choice or Anti-Abortion, thank you very much. I'd rather watch a movie and not make moral judgements. Why not? The Cider House Rules is good enough, no, wonderful enough for me recommend it to everybody.

Rating: 93

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