Writers: Peter Hedges
Stars: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis, Darlene Cates, Mary Steenburgen, Laura Harrington, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Kevin Tighe, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover
I loved What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Watching the lives of these people unfold was both humbling and entertaining. It contains what is arguably Leonardo DiCaprio's greatest performance to date. More importantly, it's just a magnificently crafted film. The cinematography and music tells a story in itself and adds an extra layer of understanding to the characters. At times I felt they could have toned down the cheesiness of certain scenes, and other times I felt overcome with emotion. My special shout out goes to Darlene Cates who played Mama Grape. Her performance, her character, and Leonardo DiCaprio truly raise the film to greatness.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape is about the big annoyances that eat at a young man named Gilbert... Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp). He lives in a run-down house in a dead-end town with his dysfunctional family. Without a father, he's had to look after his family. His mother (Darlene Cates) is morbidly obese and hardly ever gets off the couch. His brother, Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), is a precocious, mentally challenged 17-year-old that wasn't supposed to live past 12. We get a glimpse into the life of Gilbert and see him cope with the various challenges that life throws at him, like love and personal grievances with family. It's an absolutely riveting story.
When I do a list of the greatest films from the 1990s, I'd definitely give Gilbert Grape a place in the top 100. It has such heart, and a real consideration for the characters and their feelings. Everything just worked so well in this film. It didn't feel like I was watching a film with great actors. It felt like I was watching real people get through with the daily grind that life brings. Depp gave one of his best performances here. He was brooding, caring, reckless at times, but I could understand where his character came from. The story is set up perfectly with the cinematography and music, which gave Depp a playground for his character to flourish. His character isn't exactly likeable, but I liked him anyway.
Ask anyone, and they'll most likely say that Leonardo DiCaprio was by far the highlight of the film. He deserves the praise too, for seamlessly playing a mentally challenged and annoying young man. There were times where I just wanted to hit him! He frustrated the hell out of me! Then there were moments where I was utterly entranced by his character and emotions. It's clear that he doesn't understand what's going on with his life and the people around him. All he does is act on impulse. One of the most masterful displays of acting that I've ever seen came at the very end of the film. The way Arnie was crying out for his Mama gave me chills. It almost moved me to tears. This probably is DiCaprio's greatest performance, but I'd have to watch all of his other films again to truly make that judgement.
There was a part of the story that I wasn't too keen on. It was the relationship between Gilbert and Becky, played by Juliette Lewis. She didn't seem very educated, and her personal style was pretty wacky. I didn't like her, but I didn't dislike her either. Lewis gave a great performance, but her character didn't interest me as much as the others. Whenever the romance angle came on-screen, I found myself waiting for it to get back to Gilbert's family. They were far more interesting. Particularly Mama Grape, who I found most interesting.
Mama Grape must weigh about 500 pounds. She's a big woman, that's for sure. At first I just wrote her off as a lazy and selfish person who lets her kids handle everything. That's just the black and white view of it. When we finally get to hear her side of the story, and why she's that way... it really made me reflect on the way I judge people. I still think it was wrong of her to dump so much responsibility and pressure on the kids... but her reason why is something that nobody can fully understand. As much as we'd like to think we would be stronger, and deal with things better than she did, there's no way to fully know. I came to this realization because of two things: the magnificent screenplay, and Darlene Cates' performance.
This really isn't a film for everyone. My sister happened to dislike every single character in the film, and subsequently found no enjoyment in watching it. I just loved the journey this film took me on. I felt like I grew with Gilbert Grape and became more understanding of people. Not to mention, the music and cinematography truly made the film great. Just remember, there are two reasons that you MUST see this movie. One is for the electric performance of DiCaprio, and the other is for the stunning performance of Cates.