"What's Eating Gilbert Grape"?


Similar to the literary work "Of Mice and Men", this is a tale about a boy coming of age in small midwestern town. Johnny Depp is Gilbert Grape, the father-figure and bread-winner of his family, which include of a spastic younger brother, Arnie (a pre-Titanic Leonardo Di Caprio), a morbidly obese mother (Darlene Cates) who is confined to the downstairs couch, and is a local spectacle, and other needy siblings. The embattled Gilbert is trapped in a dead-end job at the local food store that is struggling to stay afloat in the wake of a new Super-Duper market that just opened. Gilbert's job does provide one fringe benefit however, he is allowed to make "special deliveries" to horny housewife Mrs. Carver (Mary Steenburgen). When he's not working or being a family man, he's listening to his best friend and future undertaker, Bobby (Crispin Glover) talk about stiffs. Life is boring, routine and unpromising for Gilbert who is resigning himself to spend his days in the listless Iowa town. That is until a trailer-trash family consisting of young lady named Becky (ample-fore headed Juliette Lewis) and her grandmother break down on their way though to an unknown destination. Gilbert and Becky fall in love and he begins to realize that there is more to life than his podunk town and his anomalous family. His desire to leave is fueled by bitterness in having to care for everyone and everything else in some form or fashion.

So now we know what's eating Gilbert Grape and of course this being Hollywood, the plot will resolve itself, but not in the jovial, gleeful manner you might want. The story itself is simple, but that is about the only simple thing about the movie, save the town where it is set.

What truly impressed me, and I can't believe that I am saying it, is the performance of Leonardo Di Caprio. He was so highly credulous as the mentally-impaired Arnie, that I thought that perhaps he was dropped on his head as a child. His execution of the part eclipsed that of John Malchovich in "Of Mice and Men" and Edward Norton in "The Score". He was consistent and sturdy to the very end, and one was actually be able to focus on something other than his looks. Johnny Depp was a good choice for Gilbert, as his smooth and low-keyed acting style allowed the viewers to feel and read his internal struggles rather than hearing them voiced. Juliette Lewis, who I never really felt had any competence as an actress, should use her forehead for showing movies instead of starring in them. I found her bland, parroty, and lack-luster. Then new-comer Darlene Cates, does a stately job as the porcine mother, but all of her roles have been as the persecuted porker, and I wonder if her talent lies beyond there. Crispin Glover is apt to play the local mortician, few young actors of today can emanate creepiness like he can.

This isn't a cheery, uplifting movie, so don't expect to get a warm and fuzzy feeling while watching it. You will get to see someone else wallow in misery and discord, and perhaps that might make you feel a bit better about yourself once you turn off the VCR.

Billz Movie Worthiness Scale: C+

Billz Movie Worthiness Scale Values:

A = movie tickets and popcorn for 2 (about $40)
B = buy the DVD when it comes out ($25)
C = rent it
D = wait for it to be on cable/pay TV
E = wait for it to be on regular TV

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