In 1985, John Irving wrote the novel The Cider House Rules and while working on the book he started working on a screenplay at the same time. Although it took a while for the screenplay to come to fruition, the book itself managed to be a huge success in many regards. John Irving isn't always a political writer. The Cider House Rules can be described as one of his most political books. It tackles the debate on Abortion. While it does so, it manages to keep the focus mostly on its characters rather than on the issue itself. When the movie came out in 1999, John Irving's screenplay was at the helm. Later in 2000, John Irving himself won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The movie centers primarily on three characters. The first is Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine, who also won an oscar for his performance). He heads an orphanage known as St. Cloud's. At St. Cloud's he is doing much more than just taking care of orphans. As it turns out, Dr. Larch also performs abortions. Given the time that The Cider House Rules takes place in... this is illegal. But Dr. Larch strongly believes in a woman's right to choose. There's also Homer Wells (played by Tobey Maguire) who doesn't believe in Abortions. They're murder. Dr. Larch accepts this of Homer, but that doesn't stop Larch from training and showing Homer how to perform them. For Dr. Larch, Homer Wells is the closest thing to a son he has.
This is until a woman named Candy (Charlize Theron) and her husband Wally (Paul Rudd) come by, seeking an abortion. While there, Homer grows to enjoy Candy and Wally. So he gets a job offer from Wally. Eventually Homer decides to leave with them, much to the dismay of the orphans and Dr. Larch. While he's there Wally is called off to fight in World War II, and Homer and Candy have an affair. Along these lines, Homer also meets Mr. Rose, a migrant worker. When Mr. Rose impregnates his own daughter and Homer sees how she tries to get rid of it, Homer is now faced with the training Dr. Larch gave him. But now comes to recognize that there are times when it is appropriate to give an abortion.
There's a lot of emotions expressed in The Cider House Rules. Despite tackling a controversial issue, it doesn't take center stage. Not quite the way people might think. The affair between Candy and Homer and their attraction to each other plays a huge part. Along those lines, the major characters play incredibly important roles. At its heart The Cider House Rules is a character driven affair through and through. It is not the issue itself that the movie is trying to get us to focus on, it is actually how the characters deal with the situation that we are to focus on.
For those wondering about how it follows the book, that's a little tough. The Screenplay is written by John Irving himself. Therefore he had control over what went into the film and what did not. It might disappoint some to know that there were huge chunks of the novel Irving intentionally left on the cutting room floor. Including completely omitting two major characters. A John Irving novel is never easy to adapt into a film. His books are often long and expand over long stretches of time. When it comes to books being made into films, there is one thing that everyone always forgets. In a book you can go on forever. There are hardly any limits to how long a book can be (especially once you become as famous as John Irving). But condensing 600 pages into a movie is not exactly easy. People can sit down and read a book for any length of time and break any time they want. Most people won't sit in a movie theater for four hours (and hollywood doesn't want to risk making a four hour movie--it would cost too much). Stephen King is fond of saying "Books and films are like apples and orange. Both are delicious, but taste very different." The adaptation of The Cider House Rules probably best shows the difference between a novel and a film. The number one thing being time constraints. The subplots that John Irving cut were fairly huge parts of the book. Irving himself stated that he'd rather cut them then include a subpar inclusion that didn't do the characters in the book any justice. What you DO get, however, is quite faitfhul to Irving's book.
For those who read the book and wondering what John Irving chose to omit, it was the suplot involving Melanie looking for Homer (and also getting involved in a lesbian relationship), and the subplot of Homer and Candy having Angel Wells. So no Melanie and no Angel. But you're also not getting much (well, none really) of Homer's childhood. These were all things Irving left in the novel and didn't want brought to the screen due to the time constraints of making a film.
So, for what you get, it's quite nice. John Irving put the main plot at the forefront. The actors themselves also do a wonderful job--particularly Michael Caine who does a bang up job as Dr. Wilbur Larch. The story paces quite well and also manages to be emotionally enticing. There's also a bit of humor thrown in. John Irving, as a writer has a reputation for being able to make people laugh and cry (or laugh WHILE crying) some of that comes out here. But it's not nearly as emotional as a few other movies you might see. Your emotions might run high, but you certainly won't find yourself crying much here. But you will find the performances enticing.
Adding to the atmosphere of the movie is the music itself. Most of it is really well done and helps to settle and increase emotions at the right moment. In terms of getting a drama, you can't really go wrong with The Cider House Rules in this regard.
In the end, The Cider House Rules is a good movie. A nice film with actors who do well at what they do, and a screenplay by the films author himself who actually understands the difference between Film and Literature.