Caine is the benevolent Dr. Larch who runs an orphanage. He delivers Homer Wells (Maguire) and raises him as his own child. Larch's expectations weigh heavily on Homer, who wishes to experience the world through his own eyes and when he falls in love with glamorous bomber piolt Wally (Paul Rudd) he has some difficult choices to make.
The strengths of Swedish director Lasse Hallström, who mixed humour, poignancy and truth so skilfully in My Life As A Dog and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, are ideally suited to Irving’s singular take on the tragicomedy of life. Given a luxury assortment cast, New England in its autumn glory, and a rich Dickensian tale, he could hardly miss. But this film does have its problems, evident in the novelist’s 13 year labours to create a filmable script.
At least a lifetime’s worth of story has been compressed into a few key years. Caine is the benevolent, ether-sniffing Dr. Larch, who runs a remote orphanage and performs illegal abortions for desperate women. Homer Wells (Maguire) is delivered, raised and loved by the doctor, who expects Homer to succeed him.
But Homer longs to experience the world and find his own way. And when glamorous bomber pilot Wally (Paul Rudd) arrives on the scene, Homer’s odyssey of love and betrayal begins, with narration from Caine and the affectionate, sarcastic correspondence between the father figure and the innocent abroad bridging the two. Inevitably, the crisis demands that Homer makes some difficult choices.
So much is going on that the plot priorities are at times unclear, while the orphanage and orchard strands don’t plait together as neatly as intended. Still, the idiosyncratic characters, emotional range and issues touched of family, race, sex and honour make this an exceptionally detailed coming-of-age epic. And it is beautifully enacted literary cinema, with the thoughtful, subtle Maguire a perfectly Irvingesque 20th century hero.
So much is going on that the plot becomes unclear at times, though th eidiosyncratic characters, emotional range and attention to gripping issues make up for this.