This is the movie that Leonardo DiCaprio received an Oscar nomination for, five years before Titanic. And, in fact, this is the movie that should have made him a star, he's so good in it. Based on the novel by Peter Hedges... more » (who adapted his own book) and directed by Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog), this is the funny, moody tale of a young man named Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) who lives at home in a small town with his 500-pound Momma (beautifully played by nonpro Darlene Cates), his mentally retarded younger brother Arnie (DiCaprio, utterly convincing), and his sisters. Not a lot happens--Arnie keeps climbing a water tower and getting stuck; Gilbert is involved with a married woman (Mary Steenburgen), then meets a nice new girl in town who's closer to his age (Juliette Lewis). And that's exactly what makes this movie so much more than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood product: it's not about some mechanical, formulaic plot; it's about these characters, and it allows you to spend some time with them and get to know them. Depp may have started out as a TV teen idol on 21 Jump Street, but his feature film choices since then--in such wonderfully offbeat and diverse movies as Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands, Benny & Joon, Donnie Brasco--have made him one of the most interesting, unpredictable, and risk-taking young actors in American movies. --Jim Emerson« less
Deanne G. from PORTLAND, OR Reviewed on 8/24/2010...
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
kjenfan | United States | 09/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""What's Eating Gilbert Grape" is a deeply moving glimpse into the frustration, sadness and triumph of love in what some would classify as a dysfunctional family. As the mentally retarded Arnie, Leonardo DiCaprio turns in an incredibly realistic performance; his gestures, his often repetitive speech...everything about his acting seems so perfect for the role he plays. (And I say this as one who has worked with the mentally retarded). It is no wonder he received an Oscar nomination. The story is told mainly through the eyes of Johnny Depp's character, Gilbert who despite his deep love for Arnie is still frustrated by the limitations that caring for Arnie places on his life. Top that off with a morbidly obese mother whom Gilbert is (reluctantly) ashamed of and a younger sister who is an oftentimes irritating troublemaker and you can see why Gilbert sometimes yearns for life to be a little easier. As a clerk in the local grocery store, Gilbert has fallen into a relationship with an older married woman (played by Mary Steenburgen) but finds himself drawn to a new girl in town (Juliette Lewis) with whom he develops a friendly, then caring relationship. Strained relations with the town's law enforcement officials ensue after Arnie repeatedly climbs the water tower and Arnie is arrested. Gilbert's mother played by Darlene Cates) who hasn't left the house in seven years, takes matters into her own hands and the results are at once triumphant and tragic. Depp is marvelous as Gilbert. His sense of despair and self hatred after he loses control and hits Arnie seem totally realistic and understandable. The younger sister who seems like such a brat at the beginning becomes more humanized as we see her vulnerability. The mother's battle with shame and humiliation over her obesity makes us all more attuned to our own shameful insensitivity. Quirky, no doubt, sad - no doubt again. But ultimately, "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" turns out to be a testament to love, caring and family loyalty. A marvelous movie."
The Grape Of Repressed Wrath
Mike Stone | 08/02/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Set in the fictional town of Endora, Illinois (quite a pregnant name for a city), "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" focuses on the down but not yet out Grape family: a mother (Darlene Cates) who weighs over 500 pounds, two sisters (Laura Harrington and Mary Kate Schellhardt) with enough bottled up anger to drown a desert town, a mentally retarded brother named Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) who's about to turn 18 despite assurances that he'd never live a third that long, and Gilbert (Johnny Depp), the glue that holds them all together. The burdens of the family, be they running errands in his truck or bathing his brother, all fall on Gilbert's shoulders. The purpose of this particular story is to find out what happens when that burden is too heavy a weight to bear.Everyone in the film is constantly expecting a lot from Gilbert. Whether it's the plea from his momma that he's "gotta do better", the complaints from his sisters that he never does anything (when in fact, he does everything), or the selfishness of the married woman (Mary Steenburgen) with whom he's having an unfulfilling affair, Gilbert can't seem to ever be good enough. Contrast this with the just-happy-to-be-here existence of Arnie, who blithely tells anyone that will listen, "I can go at anytime." It's a wonder that Gilbert ever has the strength to go on.But go on he does, using just as much effort to keep the family together as he does repressing his own anger. The film's title is ironic, in that Gilbert shows little anguish; it just appears that something is "eating" at him. It's a rather benign description of his state of mind, but on the surface it works quite well. For the most part, he vents his anger in passively destructive ways. One early scene features a couple of kids standing by the side of the road, staring at the Grape house. When Gilbert sees them, he motions one over. All the kid wants to do is get a gander at the 500 pound woman inside, and Gilbert resignedly obliges, even going so far as lifting the kid up so he can see through the window. It's a very mean moment from a young man who is angelic by most accounts. But when he lets loose of his control, when his primal nature comes out, the anger and violence and wrath and fear is very apparent.The actors are uniformly good, with a few who should be pointed out for special recognition. Darlene Cates, who legend has it was discovered after an appearance on "The Sally Jessy Raphael" show, plays Momma. It was important for the story that Momma not be played by an actor in a fat suit; the audience needs to be as repulsed by her as the townspeople are. But it is equally important that the audience comes to understand her plight, and feel for the woman. Cates is authentic looking, and, more importantly, authentic acting. The pathos of Momma is apparent in every defeated sigh. And when she's called on for anger, as she is in one pivotal scene where she makes the terrifying choice to leave the house, it's painfully real.Leonardo DiCaprio, in the years since this film came out, has polarized moviegoers in to two camps. There are those who swoon at the mere mention of his name, "Titanic"-philes and Tiger Beaters all. And there are those turn up their noses at the pretty boy actor, who will always be more style than substance. Neither of these groups will enjoy what Leo does in "Gilbert Grape". They may have to scrub clean all benefits of hindsight, or at the very least time travel back to 1993, to fully enjoy his performance. And oh what a performance it is. Common wisdom states that roles with physical or mental challenges, despite being the most often praised, are actually the easiest to play. Actors develop a series of ticks, and voila! A character! Leo, to his credit, is more than just a collection of ticks as Arnie. Sure, he's got messy hair, dirty fingernails, a nose in constant need of wiping, and a primal scream laugh. But he so disappears into his character, that any preconceptions you might have about the actor get lost, and a character fully emerges. It's a seamless and highly endearing performance.As poignant as Cates is, and as flashy and sublime as DiCaprio is, it is Depp who holds the movie together. He has to play Gilbert close to the chest for the most part, relying more on his facial expressions rather than on the sparse dialogue to communicate what the character is all about. It's not an outwardly remarkable performance, but it is supremely effective. He gets drawn out of his shell, bit by bit, when Becky shows up. Becky, Juliette Lewis in star-child mode, is a perfect contrast to Gilbert. She's open and honest and willing to let others in. Lewis is charming here, a trait she doesn't get to show often enough. She and Depp have fine chemistry together, as they try to feel their way through young love.But for most of the movie Depp plays a kind of straight man to DiCaprio's goofball antics. They have a wonderful chemistry together, for not only do they mine some restrained comedy from these scenes, but they also ably portray a strong brotherly bond. Gilbert will care for Arnie till the day he dies; Arnie loves and trusts Gilbert, even if he has not the mental capacity to understand why.Lasse Hallstrom has a wise knack for silences, not just in the performances, where silence is golden, but also in the film's musical score. For the most part, except for some light piano work in the most important moments, everything is quiet and still. Which perfectly mimics the solitude of the small town, in which this heartbreaking, but ultimately life-affirming story, takes place."
An inspiration, a blessing, an original and dazzlingly brill
Anne Rice | Little Paradise, California | 10/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There aren't words enough to praise this picture. I've watched it more times than I can count, and I buy copies of it to give to other people. Leonardo DiCaptrio gives a performance a viewer will never forget; but equally invaluable is Depp's understated and perfectly sustained role as the hero. Depp can do anything as an actor! No one falters here ever, and the ultimate impact is huge and transformative. Make this part of your collection and share it with others. A great life affirming, love affirming and superbly crafted work. It's extremely entertaining as well. In fact, it's delightful. It's all that and absolutely magnificent at the same time."
Always sweet and never sour.......
coffeelover71 | Columbia, MO | 08/18/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What's Eating Gilbert Grape? 1993, 117 minutes. Based on the novel by Peter Hedges.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Cast Featuring: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis, Mary Steenburgen, Darlene Cates, Laura Harrington, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Kevin Tighe, John C. Reilly, and Crispin Glover.DiCaprio was nominated for the Academy Award, Best Supporting Actor, and the Golden Globe Award, Best Supporting Actor.This magnificent drama unfolds in a small Iowa town that has seen better days. Gilbert's (Depp)sole purpose in life is to be the backbone of his dysfunctional family. One that consists of a mentally retarded younger brother, an obese momma, a teenage sister, as well as an older sister. We are guided through a time in Gilbert's life that rides like a roller coaster.Endora is a quiet simple town with very little progress. Gilbert is stuck in a dead end job at the local grocery store. Arnie, the mentally retarded brother, has a tendency of running off to climb the water tower. These adventures always bring the police. Even Gilbert's affair with a lonely married housewife doesn't go without a scandal. And where would we be without friends? Gilbert's friends consist of an underworked funeral director, and Tucker, who's big concern is owning a Burger Barn someday. The Grape's house is falling apart, which of course is Gilbert's responsibility. The family is in the middle of planning Arnie's 18th birthday party, a birthday they were told he'd never see. Sounds simple enough..... however, like everything else in Gilbert's life even this produces chaos. As if all this weren't enough on Gilbert's plate..in walks love. Good or bad timing? The connection between Gilbert and Becky (Lewis) helps him through some rough times. The downfall being, Becky is a traveler and only by the mere fate of her aunt's vehicle breaking down do they meet. Once fixed Becky is soon on her way out of Endora.Gilbert quickly learns that what is today isn't always tomorrow.This movie is definitely 5 star. The cast is amazing from Depp's downplayed hero to DiCaprio's stunning performance as Arnie. It has everything you could want love, compassion, friendship, and fate."
Catch Leo and Johnny before they were Leo and Johnny
Ivy Lin | NY NY | 04/03/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's rare for a movie to catch two actors on the cusp of superstardom. "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" does just that, with Leonardo di Caprio as the mentally retarded Arnie, and Johnny Depp as his stoic older brother Gilbert. "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" is a wonderful comedy-drama about Gilbert, his mentally retarded brother Arnie, his mother, his two sisters, and the townspeople. John C. Reilly has a small part as a genial carpenter who repairs the Grape's delipidated house as a favor. I can't praise this movie enough. There isn't much of a storyline, it just follows the Grape family in the weeks leading up to Arnie's 18th birthday party. But there isn't a weak link in the cast, and I've rarely seen a family film that's so touching and unsentimental. Darlene Cates in particular gives an amazing perfomrmance as Momma Grape, who is so obese the children have to carry the kitchen table into the living room for meals. There are some subplots, one involving Gilbert's affair with an unhappy housewife (Mary Steenbergen), and another involving Gilbert's romance with an peripetetal young woman (Juliette Lewis). But mostly this movie is a slice of life, rather than a 3-part drama. Leonardo di Caprio's exuberant, warm, hilarious performance as Arnie was justly praised (he got an Academy award nomination). di Caprio's Arnie can't stay still: he's always climbing trees, or running away from baths, or jumping up for a piggyback. Leo steals every scene he's in. I especially love how he gave his character a "tic": constantly flicking his nose. This could have been a one-note performance but it isn't. di Caprio's Arnie is sweet and even manipulative. In one of my favorite scenes, he wimpers to his mother that he could have "drownded" after Gilbert left him alone during a bath. Johnny Depp is also wonderful, albeit more understated, as Gilbert. Depp doesn't verbalize or exaggerate Gilbert's frustration at having so many responsibilities. You just assume it's there, and you empathize with the way he matter-of-factly deals with every new crisis. Nowadays Leo and Johnny are Grade-A superstars, and every project is big news. It's unlikely either will agree to make a film like this again. So watch these two fine actors on the brink of superstardom. It's richly deserved."