What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
Leonardo DiCaprio's performance, as "Arnie Grape", in this 1993 film won him rave reviews and an Oscar nomination. One look at this movie, and viewers know why.
THE PLOT: In the desolate town of Endora, Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is losing his ability to enjoy life and feel any emotion. He works at a small supermarket to which no one in town goes anymore, is having a passionless affair with the wife of the town's insurance salesman, has a mother who hasn't left the house since her husband committed suicide and now weighs over 500 pounds, two sisters who often irritate him, and an almost-eighteen-year-old brother, Arnie (DiCaprio), who has the mental capacity of a five-year-old and needs continual, strict supervision.
Gilbert tries to give his family everything's he's able to, and in so doing reaches a point in his life where he's drained, emotionally detatched from what's going on around him, and often listless. When asked what he wants out of life he mutters, "I want... a thing..."
Between working at the supermarket and trying to keep the family house up and running, Gilbert is responsible for keeping an eye on Arnie, a squealing bundle of tick-filled energy who has a penchant for fearlessly climbing the town's huge water-tower, and for repeating, over and over again, any phrase that sticks in his head, such as, "We're going nowhere!" and "Dad's dead, dad's dead!" Although Arnie is undeniably loveable, one can see how having to live with such a person, day in and day out, might begin to wear on the nerves (as it did with Gilbert).
Into Gilbert's life comes a young woman (Juliette Lewis, who also co-starred with DiCaprio in The Basketball Diaries) and her mother. When their camper trailer breaks down, the young woman remains in Endora while repairs are made on the vehicle, and she entwines her life with Gilbert's and his family.
She ignites in Gilbert emotions he thought had long since withered away, and when he realizes she's going to be leaving again soon to continue her cross-country trek with her mother, he goes into a depression and a rage... eventually attacking his younger brother Arnie when Arnie refuses to be given a much-needed bath.
Confused and embarrassed by his actions, Gilbert starts to run away, then realizes he has no place else to go. He returns to Endora, where he's comforted and made love to by Lewis, and where he's forgiven and embraced by Arnie.
When Lewis's character finally does leave with her mother, Gilbert tells he that he doesn't know what to say to her. His brother Arnie gleefully suggests, "Say 'thank you', Gilbert. Say 'thank you." And Gilbert does.
Sadly, on the night of Arnie's eighteenth birthday, the Grapes' mother dies, so the siblings band together to preserve her dignity. Rather than allowing the authorities to drag her 500-pound corpse out of her bedroom with a crane and tackle, Gilbert, Arnie and their sisters empty the house of all its furnishings, and burn it to the ground with their mother's body inside.
A year later, Lewis's character returns on another cross-country journey, and this time when she leaves Endora, Gilbert and Arnie go with her.
OUR REVIEW: For all of its quirky and seemingly odd-ball characters, this movie is thoroughly entertaining, and one finds oneself easily connecting with the characters' humanity and love for one another.
DiCaprio's Arnie is especially endearing. His performance (which won him an Oscar nomation for Best Supporting Actor and open praise from other performers, such as Tom Hanks) is so fluid, so natural, and so convincing that one can't see "Leonardo" in Arnie at all; just "Arnie" himself. As a tribute to DiCaprio's ability, Arnie also instills concern in viewers. In one scene during which Gilbert leaves Arnie alone to bathe himself, viewers can't help but be concerned that something awful might befall Arnie, alone in a tub filled with water. And when, the next morning, Gilbert returns home to find Arnie still in the bathtub, one's heart goes out to DiCaprio's man-child who didn't know enough to get himself out of the tub, dried, and dressed.
Leonardo DiCaprio once said that he didn't over-analyze Arnie, he just played him on an entirely "instinctive" level. How ever he managed the performance, it was (and is) one of DiCaprio's best. And there are moments in the film when you realize that DiCaprio is so convincing and so charming, that he even surprises his co-stars. In one scene where Arnie is cheerfully demanding that Lewis's character play with him, Lewis breaks out in what is obviously spontaneous laughter. In another scene, during which Arnie is asking Gilbert to find his toy in the bathtub and Gilbert ignores him, DiCaprio says firmly, "Find him!" Depp looks up DiCaprio and smiles with genuine surprise and good-humor.
This is a peculiar, but astoundingly beautiful little film that's certainly a must-see for fans of DiCaprio ...and even for those who aren't.
From Mr. Showbiz on the web: "...Director Lasse Hallstrom's lyricism and Johnny Depp's grace infuse a rare dignity into this tale of an unusual small-town family. Depp's father is long dead, his obese mother (Darlene Cates, in an exceptional debut) hasn't left the house in seven years, and his younger brother (Leonardo DiCaprio, in an Oscar-nominated performance) is mentally challenged, requiring constant supervision. Depp's claustrophobia is lessened somewhat when he falls in love with a footloose young woman (Juliette Lewis) who gets stuck in town when her family's trailer-truck breaks down. Depp is at his understated best, DiCaprio throws himself so far into his role he's almost unrecognizable, and, for a change, Lewis actually avoids being annoying." --Naomi Ryerson
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