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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

A Johnny Depp film without Tim Burton involvement? Sign me up. I’m a big fan of Johnny Depp, but with Tim Burton, you know what you’re getting with the casting of Johnny Depp.

The purpose of this film is an intriguing one because the title actually reflects the protagonist, because seriously what is eating at Gilbert Grape, played by Johnny Depp. This expressionless young boy hangs in the balance as he struggles to do the right thing in the sleepy town of Endora, Iowa. But for him to never state why he is always looks pissed off is a strange one, because it begs What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Gilbert pretty much maintains this expression throughout the film

The film opens up with Gilbert and Arnie Grape awaiting for the caravans to past through Endora, that has become a yearly ritual for the brothers. One caravan breaks down as Gilbert chases after his brother. Arnie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a mentally handicapped teenager who requires constant care from Gilbert, otherwise he’ll climb up the town’s water tower. Whilst handling his brother, he also has to deal with his mother who has locked herself away in their house and become morbidly obese. This is after her husband and Gilbert’s father committed suicide seventeen years earlier in the film.

This isn’t the only problems that Gilbert Grape faces, as his place of work faces competition from the new “Foodland” (basically Asda/Tesco/Sainsbury’s) and of course his current affair with Betty Carver (Mary Steenburgen) and the fear that Mr Carver is going to find out and kill the poor boy. And that caravan broke down? Contains a young woman, Becky (Juliette Lewis), who shows Gilbert a different side of life.

See what I mean? Leo as Arnie and Mary Kate Schellhardt as Ellen Grape.

See what I mean? Leo as Arnie and Mary Kate Schellhardt as Ellen Grape

As she sends his life into a spiral, his care for his brother and his family begins to evaporate, which causes the family to suffer. In reality this film stays on the path of Gilbert coming to the end of his tether and him snapping or not caring for his brother (like the scene when he left him in the bath believing he could bathe himself).

That being said, the film is one I thoroughly enjoyed with the storyline unfolding over six days leading up to Arnie’s 18th birthday. And Johnny Depp’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting was without a doubt was the greatest thing about this film. Especially DiCaprio portraying a young boy with mental disabilities.

Ernie nearly conquering the Endora's water tower.

Arnie nearly conquering the Endora’s water tower.

Again, funnily enough I’ve not read the book because this film has largely passed me by. What was the adaptation like with any of those who have read it? With Lasse Hallström, it seems popular for him to adapt books looking at his track record being Safe Haven, Dear John and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. One thing is for sure that I shall be interested in reading the book to see it’s comparison. I’ve only seen Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Hallström, and I enjoyed that as well, tackling similar issues of the protagonists finding themselves and in relationships that develop and/or deteriorate.

That all being said this film is no edge-of-your-seat family drama. It’s just a simple film of Gilbert trying to find the balance between everything and trying to live his life, which has become very difficult. His situation is probably summarised by Betty Carver saying she picked him because she knew “he wasn’t going to go anyway”. Which foreshadows the film a little bit but hey ho. Either way, it’s a simple, refreshing drama that is quite entertaining. The ending is fairly expected with the events leading up to it, but everything (like always with these dramas) the paths undertaken by everyone in the family is explained and helps the story finish in a nice place with a well rounded ‘happy place’.

4/5