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The movie fails to notice any of this, though. Instead, it keeps chugging along, faithfully re-creating the book's significant details while overlooking the fact that, in this edited version, they fail to add up to anything significant. Just as the makers of Simon Birch unforgivably altered the meaning of the protagonist's refrain "I'm going to be a hero" by changing the actual events in which he becomes a hero, here, too, the novel is tweaked beyond recognition. Candy's "Let's wait and see" response when Homer asks about the future of their relationship becomes a delay tactic used by a fickle girl who knows that they have no future. Homer's supposed congenital heart defect changes from loving, farsighted protection into an overly symbolic subplot ("Here--take your heart!") that's revealed far too late. What's more, we never see any significant growth in the relationship between Dr. Larch and Homer, due to the simple fact that both are reticent characters who spend much of the film apart.

Yet the emotional cues are still set for the old story: According to the music and the pacing, we're supposed to thrill when Homer returns to the orphanage to assume Dr. Larch's role. I just felt sorry for the guy: Out in the world a miserable 15 months, tossed over by a beautiful girl with a soldier boyfriend, and strong-armed into a political decision by a misguided author-turned-filmmaker, this guy's going to spend the next 60 years delivering unwanted babies, reading bedtime stories to orphans, and cleaning up vomit? The guy is more horribly trapped than Gilbert Grape in an earlier Hallström flick: At least Gilbert got to leave town. At this point, Homer will be nearly 60 before Roe v. Wade allows him to take a break. This is triumph? This is homecoming? How strange that a film trumpeting the holy grail of choice has so little left for its hero.

 

Screening out the messy parts: Michael Caine and Tobey Maguire in The Cider House Rules
Screening out the messy parts: Michael Caine and Tobey Maguire in The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules starts Friday at the Uptown Theatre.

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