Oscar Vault Monday – The Cider House Rules, 1999 (dir. Lasse Hallström)

I first saw this film on an airplane on my way back from London in 2000 and I loved it immediately. I didn’t see it again for a few years, but when I finally did watch it again I still loved it as much as I did then. At the time of its release it was up for seven Oscars – Best Score, Best Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Director, Best Picture and won two: Best Adapted Screenplay John Irving and Best Supporting Actor Michael Caine. Best Picture-wise it was up against The Insider, The Green Mile, The Sixth Sense and winner American Beauty.

This film has a great ensemble cast. I really don’t think there’s a single lackluster performance in the bunch, which I think is due in equal parts to having a great director, screenplay and casting. This is a film about relationships and what makes it work so well is the chemistry between all the actors who share screen time together.

Michael Caine is pretty much always good, even if the film he’s in is not. But when everyone else around him is equally good, then he really shines. That’s definitely the case with this film. Most of his screen time is shared with either Tobey Maguire or Kathy Baker, both of whom are equally stellar in the film. Caine won his second Oscar for this film, the first being for Hannah and Her Sisters. This is a subtle performance. Caine’s Dr. Wilbur Larch loves life in all its forms, but he also understands that sometimes births are unwanted and he does everything he can to help when the situation arrives. He runs an orphanage where women can come to have unwanted babies and then leave. He also performs abortions, which at the time were illegal. He knows that when a woman is desperate she’ll do what she has to do and he’d rather women have a safe option. This causes strife between he and Tobey Maguire’s Homer Wells, whom he’s been grooming since Homer’s birth to take over the practice.

Tobey Maguire’s performance as Homer Wells is complex and endearing. He loves Dr. Larch like a father, even if he doesn’t agree with his views. Homer, having been born at the orphanage and abandoned, feels he’d rather have lived the life he lived than to never live at all. In the end though, after witnessing what happens when a woman wants to end a pregnancy and doesn’t have a safe option, that what Dr. Larch offers really is needed. This is the Tobey Maguire I know and love, the pre-Spiderman talented young actor. With his recent performance in Brothers, I think maybe he’s gotten over being a “Hollywood Star” and we might see more complex performances out of him like we once did.

Kieran Culkin is wonderful as Buster, another boy from the orphanage, who looks up to Homer like a brother. There’s one particular scene that is pretty heartbreaking, wherein Buster realizes he has gotten too old to be appealing to perspective parents. He’s resigned to living the rest of his childhood as an orphan.

Kathy Baker also gives a subtle performance  as Nurse Angela. She’s sweet and she cares about each of her wards with all her heart. She’s the mother figure to Caine’s father figure Dr. Larch and the two play off each other beautifully.

Homer’s life is changed irrevocably by Lt. Wally Worthington and his girlfriend Candy Kendall, who come to Dr. Larch for his services. The scene after the operation is performed is heart-wrenching, although it’s nothing compared to another scene later in the film.

Charlize Theron is luminous in this role. She has the perfect face and body to pull of period roles. She also has the acting chops to take a role that could be done overly melodramatic and instead create a character with depth. At times she is effervescent and at times she is raw and uncompromising.

This is definitely one of my favorite performances from Paul Rudd. Rudd is mostly known for his comic roles, and he is wonderfully funny, but it’s nice to see him play a role that requires a lot of range, if only just to show that he can. I particularly like his scenes with Maguire. The two really feel like kindred spirits.

Delroy Lindo gives an explosive performance as Arthur Rose, resident of the cider house and abusive father of Rose Rose (played by Eryka Badu). His scenes are hard to watch because he character is so harsh, but he’s also so engaging it’s equally hard to look away.

Eryka Badu gives a heart-wrenching performance of the abused Rose Rose who, for most of the film, sticks by her abuser. The climatic scene between her and Lindo is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen in a film.

In explanation of what the title of the film refers to, I turn to the script itself:

Peaches: Look at that. Them same damn rules is tacked up again!
Muddy: Why don’t you put them damn rules in the wood stove, Peaches?
Rose: I want to hear what they are, first. Homer, let me hear what they are.
Homer: “One: Please don’t smoke in bed.”
Muddy: We heard that one already, Homer.
Homer: “Two: Please don’t go up to the roof to eat your lunch.”
Peaches: That’s the best place to eat lunch!
Homer: “Three: Please–even if you are very hot–do not go up to the roof to sleep.”
Hero: What do they think? They must think we’re crazy!
Muddy: They think we’re dumb niggers so we need dumb rules–that’s what they think.
Homer: This is the last one. “Four: There should be no going up on the roof at night.”
Peaches: Why don’t they just say, “Stay off the roof!”?
Hero: Yeah, they don’t want us up there *at all*!
Rose: That’s *it*?
Homer: That’s it.
Rose: It means nothin’ at all! And all this time I been *wonderin’* about it!
Peaches: They’re *outrageous*, them rules!
Mr. Rose: Who *live* here in this cider house, Peaches? Who grind them apples, who press that cider, who clean up the mess, and who just plain *live* here… just breathin’ in the vinegar? Somebody who *don’t* live here made them rules. Them rules ain’t for *us*. *We* the ones who make up them rules. We makin’ our *own* rules, every day. Ain’t that right, Homer?
Homer: Right.

This is a hard film to watch. But it is definitely worth it. If you’re interested in purchasing this film, you can do so here. Lastly, I’m going to end my post with the closing line of the film:

Homer: Good night, you Princes of Maine! You Kings of New England!


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on June 14, 2010, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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