Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), an obstetrician, runs the orphanage in St. Cloud, Maine. This feisty Dickens-like character, who has become addicted to the ether he uses to help him sleep, sees a world full of pain and suffering. He is particularly sensitive to the plight of poor, young, unwed women. The good doctor helps them out by taking in their orphans. For those who don't want to have a child at all, he does abortions.
One of the babies he delivers is given the name Homer Wells. He's adopted twice but returned each time. Homer (Tobey Maguire) becomes a fixture at the orphanage. Dr. Larch treats him like a son and by the time he is in his teens, Homer is an accomplished midwife. However, he refuses to perform abortions.
Much to the dismay of Dr. Larch and his two loyal nurses (Jane Alexander and Kathy Baker), Homer sets out on his own to see the world. Wally Worthington (Paul Rudd) gets him a job in his mother's (Kate Nelligan) apple orchard and cider brewery. When Wally goes off to fight the Japanese as a pilot in World War II, Homer falls in love with Candy (Charlize Theron), his lonely girlfriend. This affair of the heart, along with an ethically charged situation involving Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo), the African-American cider house foreman, force Homer to take a hard look at the rules that have governed his life. His compassion for Rose (Erykah Badu), the foreman's pregnant daughter, turns out to be a crucial factor in determining his destiny.
Best-selling novelist John Irving has beautifully adapted his 1985 novel for the screen. Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) draws out the natural beauty, tenderness, and intimacy of this slow blooming drama. The film provides an unforgettable and totally fresh examination of the spiritual practice of you; this practice covers self-esteem and accounts for a sense of vocation. The film's message is simple and clear as a bell: We are all orphans with a little bit of Bedouin in our blood, wrestling with who we are, where we come from, and why we're here at all. Go where you are wanted. Go where you are needed. Go where you belong.