January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

John Irving’s novels have been successful, but films based on his novels (see Simon Birch) have disappointed critics. The Cider House Rules (due in the fall), which tells the story of a boy who’s been isolated in an orphanage, has at least one element the others lacked: a screenplay credited to Irving. That’s what prompted director Lasse Hallstrom (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) to sign on. ”The screenplay’s balance of dramatic, comedic, and bizarre elements attracted me,” he says. ”I felt I could be of use to it.” Another factor in the film’s favor is its stellar cast (including Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, and Erik Sullivan). Says Hallstrom, ”Charlize plays the girl who teaches the boy the facts of life.” And that beats Nastassja Kinski in a bear suit any day.

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