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WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Mary Steenburgen, Leonardo DiCaprio, John C. Reilly
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 117 Minutes
Release Date: November 27, 2001

“Gilbert, tell me what you want as fast as it comes to you.”

“I wanna be a good person.”

Film ***

If one found themselves living the life Gilbert Grape lives, especially in a hugely populated area, he or she might rather prefer death. Gilbert leads a life that has it’s individual moments of joy in them, but for the most part, it’s a living hell, especially when it comes to catering to his intensely dysfunctional family. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is an endearing and gentle account of a very eccentric family struggling to make it amidst all the jokes made of them by the townsfolk. Featuring a first rate cast, many of them unknowns or rising stars at the time, and a purely breathtaking scenery, this makes for two hours of heartwarming entertainment.

Gilbert, played by Johnny Depp, is a hapless grocery store employee. The other members of the family include his younger brother Arnie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the role that put him on the Hollywood map of stardom. Arnie is mentally retarded, and Gilbert constantly has to keep a close eye on him to make sure that he doesn’t do anything outrageous, such as frequent attempts to climb the town’s water tower and wave to everybody. Gilbert’s mom (Darlene Cates) is an extremely obese woman, who was a beauty in her younger years, who is now reduced to never leaving the house and having things, such as meals, brought to her.

Gilbert is facing another dilemma in his life. Lonely and unsatisfied housewife Mrs. Carver (Mary Steenburgen) is desperate for frequent sexual meetings with Gilbert on his grocery delivery rounds. All of that seems to come to an end once young Becky (Juliette Lewis) catches his attention. She’s a drifter, living in an RV with her grandmother, and she is in town indefinitely until the RV can get repaired. Unexpectedly, Gilbert and Becky share a romance that might drive her to stay much longer than expected.

This is a nice little film, filled with heart, humor, and thoughtfulness of its subject matter, which is that of keeping a family together. Johnny Depp, as always, brings yet another unique character to life and makes the character all his own. Leonardo DiCaprio, who garnered a noteworthy Oscar nod for his performances her, is remarkable in the role of the mentally challenged Arnie. Talk about the most difficult performance to pull off.

Beautifully directed by Sweden Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), and performed remarkably by a perfectly fit cast of actors, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is sweet and gentle account of an eccentric family that is both honest and earnest.

Video ***1/2

For a film that displays a unique sense of beauty in its look and scenery, Paramount has done this presentation very well. The film takes place in mostly outdoor settings, which is displayed in pure clearness and vibrant greens and browns. It’s only in a few darkly lit scenes midway in the film where the image appears a bit soft. Other than that, a nice looking presentation overall.

Audio **1/2

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a subtle, quiet film at best that relies heavily on dialogue, so the audio track that Paramount has provided is a good one, which means good enough to suffice a film of this kind. Dialogue is heard with definite crispness, and other distinct sounds are picked up well, too. A good sounding disc, but just don’t be expecting anything state-of-the-art, because a film of this magnitude doesn’t provide it.

Features *

Just a trailer.

Summary:

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is as gentle and endearing as any movie you will find. Fans of Lasse Hallstrom’s work are sure to get their money’s worth, as are fans of actors Depp and DiCaprio.