Best Director: Lasse Hallström
The Cider House Rules
March 2000
Troy Patterson


"Quirky," "offbeat," "eccentric" ‑the tags pasted on Lasse Hallström films refer to their pitch‑perfect mix of the grave and the joyful. His career has been defined by My Life as a Dog (about a Swedish 12‑year‑old cast out of his decaying nuclear family; it earned the director a 1987 Oscar nod) and 1993's What's Eating Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio adrift in a family of misfits). What powers these movies ‑and The Cider House Rules‑ is an unwavering wonder at life's tragicomic weirdness. As author John Irving puts it, he trusted Hallström with his orphanage epic because "I knew he could do the points of view of children." 

In Sweden, Hallström, 53, made his rep directing kid's movies, comedies, and one con­cert film (ABBA: The Movie). After scoring in Hollywood with Dog, he wanted to remake Peter Pan, and when that was finished, "to turn to the adult world, to avoid being typecast as a children's director."  The grown‑up movies came (1995's Something to Talk About), but Pan never got off the ground. So what? In Cider House -where Homer (Tobey Maguire, with Hallström, above) is the favorite son at the orphanage run by the obstetrician/abortionist Dr. Larch (Michael Caine)‑ the director found material ideally suited to Never-Never‑Land. "I felt this could belong to the family of Hallström movies," he says. "The very specific John Irving tone, which is the mix of the bizarre and the dramatic and the comedic, felt familiar to me." 

Noting Hallström's handling of one pivotal scene, Irving observes, "We may be politically approving that Homer has decided to return to the orphanage... but we are moved because we see him return through the orphans' eyes." With his refusal to make children precocious or idealized, Hallström is starting to look a little like Peter Pan himself: the director who -wondrously‑ never grew up.