Jun 27

“The Cider House Rules”: Making One’s Own Way

Well, someone who don’t live here made those rules. Those rules ain’t for us. We are supposed to make our own rules. And we do. Every single day. The Cider House Rules

Film critic Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle, called the award-winning and poignant 1999 film The Cider House Rules, which was adapted from John Irving‘s novel and directed by Lasse Holstrom, not only “Dickensian” but also “one dickens of an American movie.”

Adding to the above was the review of Stephen Holden, The New York Times:

It doesn’t take a cryptographer to decipher the meanings in John Irving’s sprawling picaresque allegories. But a reader who wants to savor them must be willing to suspend a psychoanalytic view of human nature descended from Freud through Oprah and surrender to an imagination that is more Dickensian than Freudian. Once you give up those expectations, a visit to the world according to Irving is a little like touring a parallel universe where fate is determined not so much by abusive parents as by wondrous tragicomic events beyond the realm of psychology.


Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine) runs an orphanage, St. Clouds. Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle:

Wintry St. Clouds has several kinds of clients. A few are prospective adopters who come to inspect the children — ‘I’m the best of all the kids,’ one of them declares — and occasionally leave with one. Many others come to have their babies and leave them behind, and some expectant parents come for illegal abortions. Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) is an orphan who never found a family but grew to adulthood at St. Clouds and stayed. He now assists Larch. He knows how to deliver babies but is not a doctor. One thing he won’t assist Larch in, however, is performing abortions.

The following scene epitomizes the heartbreak of everyday decision-making at St. Cloud’s:

After a particular couple (Paul Rudd, Charlize Theron) receives abortion services at St. Clouds, Homer decides to leave with them to “see the world.” He spends years away from there, partly working alongside African American migrants at an apple orchard—the scene of the “Cider House Rules” that aren’t necessarily heeded—and off-season being a lobsterman.

While Rudd’s character is away serving his country, Homer and Theron’s character, Candy, fall in love.

Other important parts of the story include an incestuous relationship perpetrated by the orchard’s crew boss and Homer’s eventual return to the orphanage.



Stephen Holden, New York Times: “The need to be of use, the discovery that the official rules and real-life rules of how to behave rarely coincide — these and other life lessons that our innocent hero learns may sound like the tritest of homilies. But ‘The Cider House Rules’ gives them the depth and emotional weight of earned wisdom.”

Lisa Schwarzbaum, ew.com: “…Dr. Larch suits Caine, who, establishing the unorthodox rituals of a doctor committed to his own ethical rules (he huffs ether to tune out the world’s misery), locates the sadness and stubbornness behind the abortionist/child saver’s fervor.”


An opinion articulated by Stephen Holden, New York Timesabout The Cider House Rules resonates deeply with this viewer (who’s seen it several times):

…(I)t is a sustained meditation on the dream of home sweet home that gnaws at the heart of its orphaned main character Homer…as well as the hearts of the other children who grow up in St. Cloud’s…

…(G)rowing up means coming to the realization that in a cosmic sense we are all orphans.

Jun 13

“Obvious Child”: Romantic Comedy Tackles Abortion

Romantic comedy Obvious Child, starring Jenny Slate and directed/co-written by Gillian Robespierre, is about a young comedienne’s unplanned pregnancy and her decision to have an abortion. For the way it approaches the issue, it’s been called subversive, revolutionary, groundbreaking, radical…you get the picture.


Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “Donna uses her life, including her old lovers and older underwear, as material for her act. Her boyfriend (Paul Briganti), a cheater who doesn’t like his sexual habits being fodder for comedy, dumps her. To the horror of her roommate Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann, wonderful), Donna indulges in a ‘a little light stalking.’ And then, here’s where the plot pivots, Donna buries her self-pity in a broken-condom one-nighter with a stranger, Max (Jake Lacy), a dude so square he wears topsiders. But Max is also, well, nice, so nice that Donna doesn’t tell him at first when she tests positive on her pregnancy test.”



Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “The concept of using one’s life as fodder for your art is an underlying motif of’ Obvious Child…Sometimes Donna hits it out of the park. Other times, like when she goes on-stage wasted, in the wake of the breakup, and rambles on incessantly to an increasingly embarrassed audience, she falls flat on her face.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “Donna never doubts the wisdom of having an abortion. And Max, played by Lacy with laidback charm and sneaky wit, never doubts her right to make her own decisions. By Hollywood standards, these acts count as revolutionary.”


Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: “Donna is surrounded by the typical young adult safety net: Parents — hers are divorced and delightful: Dad Jacob (Richard Kind) is the more nurturing sort, Mom Nancy (Polly Draper) the more demanding. Friends are her quasi-family: Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann), the one with good advice; fellow stand-up Joey (Gabe Liedman), responsible for unconditional support (Liedman is Slate’s real-life comedy partner). David Cross shows up for a quick turn as an older stand-up friend/lech named Sam.”


Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “The abortion itself becomes a pivot point in the slow-developing relationship between Donna and Max, and in a surprising fashion. It isn’t the obstacle they have to overcome, or the force that threatens to tear them apart; ultimately, it’s the thing that brings them together…The historic moment of ‘Obvious Child’ is not about saying that abortion is safe and legal and that’s a good thing. It’s about saying that abortion gave these two people a shot at true love.”


Amy Nicholson, Riverfront Times: “The real love story is between Donna and the rest of womankind, the silent (in movies) but sizable majority that understands her decision. What will last is the strength of her friend Nellie’s support, her closer bond with her mother, and even the small smile she shares with another patient at the abortion clinic.”


Peter Debruge, Variety: “Until now, audiences haven’t had much choice when it comes to how pregnancy is handled onscreen. Attacking the status quo with infectious humor rather than strident criticism, Gillian Robespierre’s uproarious ‘Obvious Child’ centers a good, old-fashioned romantic comedy around a woman’s decision to abort a one-night stand gone wrong.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “At just under an hour and half, this is one of the few movies I’ve seen in the past year that seems distinctly too short—an assessment that’s only in part complimentary. Several of the film’s most important relationships feel underdeveloped.”

Amy Nicholson, Riverfront Times: “…Obvious Child is perfect for those who want more honesty in fiction, and survivors like Donna who know that sometimes the only way to get used to pain is by hitting a tender spot over and over and then letting the bruise heal.”