Saturday, 16 November 2013

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) - ★★★★

Director: Lasse Hallstrom
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.

For me, there was one absolutely unforgettable scene in this film. When Gilbert sat down on the bed with his Mama, and finally talked to her as a mother and son should. He still had his pent-up resentment towards her, but he held it in and listened to her side of the story. By the time she was through speaking, he found he wasn't angry any more. He knew she was sorry, she knew she did wrong, and neither of them meant for things to turn out the way they did. Depp and Cates had wonderful chemistry, but it was Cates that touched me in that scene. She should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Deep down, I think she would have made a more worthy winner than Anna Paquin in The Piano. 

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. 


  1. " Ask anyone, and they'll say that Leonardo DiCaprio was by far the highlight of the film."

    I'm not anyone I guess. The ensemble together is perfection. Leo was great but surrounded by others would have been a different experience. :D

    1. I should change it to 'most likely' then. Everyone I know said he was the best part.

      Leo wasn't even the best in my opinion. That honour goes to Darlene Cates!

  2. I completely agree. This movie is a favorite of mine. Juliette Lewis' character was a pretty boring 'quirky girl,' but everything else was great. I was shocked by the person on Imdb who claimed to 'hate' Arnie. Although he would be a big pain in the ass to look after if he was my brother and my responsibility, it wasn't his fault that he was so limited. I did not find him 'annoying' while watching the movie, but I appreciated Gilbert's frustration and understood why he went off and hit him, even though it was awful. Have you seen "Sling Blade?" Similar kind of movie imo.

    1. I haven't seen Sling Blade, but I've heard a lot about it :) For anyone to 'hate' Arnie is surprising to me... that's just sad really. He's a lovely boy that means well. I'll be the first to admit that I found him very annoying at times, but that's because I sympathised with Gilbert Grape. It's one of the great things about the movie.

      Thanks Sarah!

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  4. You... must... see... "Sling Blade." Great movie. On the "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" Imdb forum, some chick left a disgusting response to the 'I hate Arnie' post about how the mentally disabled are a huge burden, and she would abort a fetus in a skinny minute if it turned out to have Down's Syndrome. It makes me mad that I have to share the world with these people, and I don't mean the retarded folks. A disability is something we can't change, like the color of our skin or hair, so why should we be ostracized for it. I'm on medication for psychological problems I've had since early childhood and I also have mild autism, and I would hate to think people pity my mother for birthing a cretin like me. Disgusting.