"What's Eating Gilbert Grape" (1993)
Directed By: Lasse Hallstrom
Written By: Peter Hedges
Released: Dec 25th, 1993
Runtime: 117 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
The film centres around the uneventful life of Gilbert Grape (played by Johnny Depp) as he looks after his mentally handicapped younger brother, Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), his two sisters and their morbidly obese mother, who hasn’t left the house in seven years following their father’s suicide. Set in the small town of Endora, I think it mainly focuses on the characters and their day-to-day activities, such as Gilbert’s on-going affair with bored housewife Betty Lamson, Arnie’s persistence in venturing up the water tower, and the new arrival of a Food Land supermarket just out of the town threatening to render the small shops in Endora redundant. Amidst this, the Grape family are preparing for Arnie’s upcoming eighteenth party, when a young woman named Becky (played by Juliette Lewis) arrives with her grandmother stuck in town after the truck towing their trailer breaks down. Cue for a budding romance.
This is such a good film. The plotline initially sounds quite mundane and even viewing the trailer, it doesn’t look like much – but once you watch it you realise its subtle brilliance.
Johnny Depp plays Gilbert very well. (I always think he looks so different in each role he plays). The feel of the film is in some respects light hearted; the characters are just down to earth kind of people living their lives. At the heart of the film there’s something very touching about it. You can’t help but care about the characters; they feel like real people. Each one has their own personal obstacle to overcome during the film, however subtle. On the other hand it can be quite heavy and touches on some heavy and sensitive subjects. I would say that probably it’s not for everyone. Being two hours, I think it is a bit long for what it is, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.
However, I would recommend it purely for Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting, alone. For his role as Arnie Grape he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at that year’s Academy Awards (how he didn’t actually win it, is beyond me) and nominated for good reason. He’s nothing short of amazing. Being just his second time on the big screen, it was truly the start of his boundless ability and wonderful budding career.
Perhaps I’m being the tiniest bit bias, but please don’t overlook this movie! Even if you only ever see it once, it is still worth viewing.