What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

What's Eating Gilbert Grape? J&M Entertainment/Paramount Pictures 1993.

Before watching the movie:

I know next to nothing about this film, but it was recommended to me years ago. I know there is an autistic character, and Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio are in it.

I expect this to be a drama that I’ll feel better about after I watch it than during, but I’ve been proven wrong before.

During/After the movie:

Gilbert Grape lives in the middle of nowhere raising his fatherless family and trying to support them working at the local mom & pop grocery. His brother Arnie has a severe mental disability, and Gilbert is his primary caretaker. His younger sister is an insufferable teenager, and his older sister is busy keeping the household running, because his mother doesn’t leave the couch on account of the fact that she’s so fat she is literally in danger of breaking the floorboards. If this isn’t enough to keep up with, he’s stuck in an affair with one of his store’s delivery customers, and he’s falling in love with a girl whose camper broke down as she passed through.

Johnny Depp is the best actor in the world. I don’t mean by that that his performances are great, but they must be since no matter how many roles I see him in, he seems to be a completely different person. Most actors I can recognize through their cosmetic changes, but Depp’s face and voice are new every time.  Opposite him is a very young Leonardo DiCaprio, possibly pre-heartthrob. DiCaprio plays Arnie, and is completely convincing in his portrayal of a developmental disorder. I’ve seen more severe cases, but he is just as relatable as he needs to be to play sympathetically.

The small town the Grape family lives in is a minor character itself. The struggle between small businesses and chain stores is not just a background, it comes to life onscreen just like any member of the Grape family. Endora is certainly a more developed character than Crispin Glover’s eccentric mortician character.

This film was almost exactly what I expected. It was incredibly frustrating to watch, channeling Gilbert’s suppressed frustration at his situation. In the end, I’m glad to have watched it, but not necessarily glad of the watching.

Watch this movie: and get a profound look into one very giving man’s life.

Don’t watch this movie: if you crack up at the mentally handicapped and at fat people.

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