Whats Eating Gilbert Grape?


Subtle and easy going with some great performances.

Lasse Hallstrom films seem to always feel easy viewing with a calm approach. The combination of drama and romance are his trademark as such, with films including Chocolat and the recent Dear John. There is also The Shipping News often in my opinion underrated for it captures a man lost of his emotions, via a great performance from Kevin Spacey.

In fact thinking about it What’s eating Gilbert grape and The Shipping News share remarkably similar themes. Gilbert (Johnny Depp) is caring for his mentally ill brother Arnie ( Leonardo DiCaprio) and his obese mother (Darlene Cates). He has to balance this responsibility along with looking out for his two sisters Amy and Ellen. Spending a lot of his time keeping other people happy, Gilbert has little time to express his own emotions. Then one day Becky (Juliette Lewis) walks into his life and for the first time Gilbert can express who he is by showing his emotions.

Raised by many other people and even getting an Oscar nomination (not as good as one likes to think, the Oscars are shoddy) 19 year old Leonardo DiCaprio is without a doubt splendid in a very challenging role. Child actors can often propel the person onto stardom or overwhelm them, for example 10 year old Christian Bale from Empire of the Sun was fantastic and despite being an angry man, I think we can agree it worked out quite nicely for him. Of course the opposite does happen with the obvious example of Macaulay Culkin  despite Home Alone and its success he has rather faded away.

It’s only recently that I have become to enjoy DiCaprio as an actor, his performances in Shutter Island and Inception no doubt helped. Unfortunately he was terrible in the already terrible Titanic and such was his terribleness that it lingered somewhat after, before slowly redeeming himself in films like Catch me if you can and The Departed.

And his performance here as Arnie is a contender for his best ever. Arnie’s mental disability is never explained in the film though we can speculate it being close to autism. Considering the stature of this role this must of been an overwhelming one for a young DiCaprio, yet rather ironically he shows more maturity than some of his roles in the years after.

Lets not forget Johnny Depp because although not anyway near the same demand of a character he has to play a character with complications. A lot of people may say Depp is out of form here for constantly he takes a mundane approach almost forcing his lines out. However for me he is capturing the character as after all Gilbert is struggling on wards and feels like a ghost observing his life. There is a great littering of humor throughout mainly coming from Gilbert’s two friends Tucker Van Dyke played by the brilliant John C. Reilly and Bobby played by the always eccentric Crispin Glover. The use of there bickering is left in the background of most scenes, though we are always aware of them thus further highlighting that not only is Gilbert oblivious to his lifeless demeanor but also people around him.

With the arrival of Becky we immediately see the side of Gilbert that had been hidden throughout, finally he can show emotions otherwise kept locked away. This causes trouble as he begins to neglect his responsibilities for Arnie and his newly found emotions lead him to abusing his brother. This only increases Gilberts new found love and thus promises to protect Arine even more.

Though there aren’t too many negatives a few points weakened the quality of the film. The main problem comes from some scenes throughout failing to give the intended deep cut of emotions from its audience. A little more about the characters around Gilbert would of helped, I know we are following him but some characters felt wasted (more of Tucky and Bobby) his sisters felt like stand by characters for the grief of the rest of the family. I’m not yet sure what to make of the casting of Darlene Cates, I cant help but thinking the main reason was because she is already obese, her acting experience is minimal so this only further increases this believe.

A stand out performance and others to match, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is an easy ride on a man’s struggle to find himself whilst managing his dysfunctional family.

8/10

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