I went into The Cider House Rules with a blank slate, knowing nothing about the movie at all.
I didn't even know how to pronounce the title. It could've been "The cider house-rules," meaning "This is the cider house, and these are the rules." Or it could've been "The cider house rules!" meaning "That cider house is damn cool!"
Wiser readers have probably already figured out that the former is correct, and while this isn't a movie about a bunch of rules, it comes awfully close. Based on John Irving's novel (he also wrote the script), Cider House has that "adapted from the book" feeling -- like the writer didn't want to edit out any of the chaff because it was all too precious.
Well, Cider House is a sloppy mess because of it. We start with the 1930/1940s childhood of main character Homer (Maguire), his adolescence in a remote Maine orphanage, his apprenticeship to the orphanage's OB/GYN and abortionist Doctor Larch (Caine), his infatuation with a patient who comes in for services (Theron), his decision to become an apple picker, and... okay, are you bored yet?
Try as I might, I can't even make it sound interesting, much less exciting. How this book became a film is beyond me. Obviously searching to recreate the magic of introspective period dramas like The Ice Storm and Dead Poets Society, The Cider House Rules is an exceedingly poor imitation that just doesn't work, mainly because nothing happens in its two-plus hours.
To enjoy the film at all, you'll need to take pleasure in the details. Maguire is typically excellent as the brooding Homer. Caine, doing his first American accent, is surprisingly effective as Homer's counterpoint. The supporting cast is uniformly good, excepting the inexplicably cast musician Erykah Badu. As a character study, Cider House is mild entertainment, but it's not enough to merit recommending the film.
The Cider House Rules , you'll be interested to know, represents a 13 year struggle to make it to the big screen. Oh, how you feel that.
House built on a weak foundation...