What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

This film was recommended by one of my teacher friends awhile ago and I decided to watch it during the DailyView. 1993 and the world had a chance to see that Leonardo DiCaprio was an actor of note.

DiCaprio was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this performance, and after watching it, you can see why.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape told the story of the Grape family in a small Midwestern town, Endora. Gilbert (Johnny Depp) was a young man who struggled to help his family survive after his father disappeared one day to never return. Adding to the difficulties for Gilbert was his mentally-disabled younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his extremely obese mother (Darlene Cates), who had been housebound since the disappearance of her husband.

Gilbert worked at the floundering mom and pop grocery store in Endora which would include deliveries to Betty Carver (Mary Steenburgen), a married woman who was having an affair with Gilbert.

Life changed for Gilbert with the arrival of Becky (Juliette Lewis) and her grandmother (Penelope Branning) in town. Their nomadic lifestyle was interrupted when their truck broke down, forcing them to wait in Endora for a part. Gilbert and Becky bonded during the time they spent in the town.

The melodrama was high and the emotional stakes were plenty. DiCaprio never once played a false note with the character of Arnie. Had I not known who Leonardo DiCaprio was, I would be sure that the actor in this film was legitimately mentally-challenged. Every minute he was on screen, DiCaprio was authentic and that was something a role like this was going to be difficult to maintain, especially for a younger actor as he was at the time.

All of these characters held a deep pain just below the surface and struggled constantly to maintain their composure. It was clear that life had been tough for them all and that the hope for a better life had drained away.

With the arrival of Becky, hope reappeared in the eyes of Gilbert, even though his budding relationship lead to other issues with Arnie. You could see Gilbert questioning his life with each moment that passed.

The film did feel a little long, especially in the first act, but the slow burn picked up as the end of the film came. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape showed a lot of heart and gave us some great character work.

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