With a powerful and relatable storyline, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a look at small-town America that gives it all the respect it deserves, allowing the film to keep its heart.
Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) feels trapped – with no father present and an eccentric family to care for, he struggles to cope. His significantly overweight mother (Darlene Cates) cannot leave the house, and his developmentally challenged younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) is running riot with his stubborn antics. As much as Gilbert adores Arnie and shares a unique fatherly bond, he can be challenging to care for.
What strikes you if you have seen What’s Eating Gilbert Grape before is how timeless it is some 28 years after its release. For those coming into the film for a first time watch, you are in for such a treat here. What drives the film is how strong the chemistry is amongst the entire cast. This is a movie with such fantastic casting throughout, but of course. The most memorable will be that of Depp and DiCaprio, who can form such a believable bond that you are totally consumed by them.
Showing the pressures of having an entire family’s life put onto your shoulders. Depp is sensational here as the weight of his family and financial pressures begin to take his toll on Gilbert. Other than his affair with a married woman, he is as selfless as they come. The question throughout What’s Eating Gilbert Grape isn’t if Gilbert will snap; it is when he will and what damage will be caused because of it. From all sides, he is pressured, yet he keeps a stoic attitude that other than Captain Jack Sparrow, Depp knows how to play like the back of his hand.
With DiCaprio, it is easy to forget how much range he has as an actor; it does appear that since the 2000s, he has not been stretching himself too much with his roles with perhaps his role in Django Unchained, the one where he steps out of his comfort zone the most. Here, however, he is transformative; he is Arnie and encapsulates the part with such confidence and ease that you often wonder where this version of DiCaprio is now.
Under Hallstrom’s direction, he allows us to care for these characters when under less constrained direction, we could lose its audience. Here, he is gentle with his characters and their story. While he does have bittersweet moments within the story, he is much more concerned about the themes of hope and tragedy in a small-town environment.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape becomes a film that needs to be seen and is almost a rare film from the early ’90s that deserves the accolades it is often given. If you haven’t seen it before, then you are in for such a treat of a film.
Signature Entertainment presents What’s Eating Gilbert Grape on Digital Platforms 16th April and Amazon Prime Video 7th May.
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