What's Eating Gilbert Grape


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

What's Eating Gilbert Grape
"This gentle, beautifully made film has an understated sensitivity that runs right through it."

To deal with pain, the mind locks a door and throws away the key. That's what happened to Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp). He cannot allow himself the luxury of emotion within a familiy that looks on him for guidance. In his role as protector, he has to watch out for Momma (Darlene Cates) and Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio). The girls can take care of themselves.

Small town, deep set, dysfunctional America, where eccentricity is an art form and family values are the true worth of a life less ordinary, denial has its price.

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Swedish director Lasse Hallström became internationally known for My Life As A Dog. This is his second US picture, enhanced by Sven Nykvist's exquisite cinematography and a script by novelist Peter Hedges, imbued with infinite grace.

Momma was a beauty when she was younger, but after Dad disappeared, she let herself go and now is too fat to move. Her children care for her, without complaint, aware of what people must think. "My Mom is attached to the house," Gilbert tells Beccy (Juliette Lewis) later. "She's sort of wedged in." They live a few miles out of Endora, a Texan town so far off the beaten track that the arrival of a hamburger franchise is greeted like the Second Coming.

"Describing Endora is like dancing with no music," Gilbert says.

His younger brother Arnie is mentally defective. The doctors said he wouldn't make it to his tenth birthday. Now he's coming on 18.

"I can go at any time," he tells people, giggling.

He likes to sit in a tree in front of the house and pretend to hide and when he's in Endora, he climbs the water tower, bringing out the police and, when he goes too high, the fire brigade. That's exciting! He laughs and laughs, 80ft up.

Gilbert's life concerns making sure that Arnie is safe and not teased, or bullied, and their Momma has what she needs. He works at the grocery store and has drifted into a sexual liaison with the insurance man's wife (Mary Steenburgen), who, with a conspiritorial smile, asks for her orders to be delivered to the house.

When Beccy's mother's mobile home breaks down en route to the wider world beyond Endora and takes up residence in a field, not far from Gilbert's home, he feels, for the first time, the tug of a kindred spirit.

This gentle, beautifully made film has an understated sensitivity that runs right through it and, although hijacked by DiCaprio's astonishing performance, the ensemble playing is a constant delight.

This is yet another example of an outsider's view of an American phenomenon - small town eccentricity. Hallstrom's eye is as fresh as a summer morning before the bugs have woke.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2004
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The eccentricity of a one parent family, living in a wooden house, near a small town in Texas.
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Director: Lasse Hallström

Writer: Peter Hedges, based on the novel by Peter Hedges

Starring: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis, Mary Steenburgen, Darlene Cates, Laura Harrington, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Kevin Tighe, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Penelope Branning

Year: 1993

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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