What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
Whenever Gilbert (Depp)'s mentally-handicapped younger brother, Arnie (DiCaprio), climbs the water Endora, Iowa, water tower, he forgets how to get down. The boys' mother (Cates), at 500 pounds, just sits on the sofa. Delivering groceries for the local grocery store's customers, Gilbert often stops to see lonely Mrs. Carver (Steenburgen), who's much happier afterward. Gilbert's boss at the store is threatened by a big new supermarket on the edge of town with live lobsters, which Endora's townsfolk can't hear enough about, and Gilbert's best friend, Bobby (Glover), works at his dad's funeral home, and is full of tales about it.
Gilbert's life isn't easy, but everyone in town (population 1,091) knows the family, so they fit in and are at least quasi-functional. Life is possible anywhere misfits aren't tragic, or they don't see themselves that way. A retarded younger brother and a mother so fat she never leaves the house are burdens for Gilbert. Yet Gilbert sometimes helps neighbor kids sneak peeks at "the fat lady in the window," even though Gilbert protects his two younger sisters as best he can. The family operates according to rituals -- the kids carry the kitchen table, with dinner on it, to Momma (Darlene Cates) on the sofa. Although his family is almost impossible to life with, Gilbert is committed to them, and with love.
But resiliant or not, the Grapes are in a rut. Gilbert in his early twenties hangs out with the guys, swills coffee, and prods Bobby about embalming. When a lovely young woman, Becky (Lewis), rolls into town in an RV with her grandmother (Branning), traveling from nowhere to nowhere, their stopever is enough for Becky and Gilbert. Love becomes a catalyst for the Grapes, forcing them to change. As Becky meets Momma, tension and excitement arise.
The film casts only sympathy on Momma, showing us her losses and disappointments, and that she too will try to make a new start. Cates' debuts here as an extraordinary on-screen presence. And Bobby (DiCaprio) is difficult and invaluable at the same time. The best movies show everyday life, carefully observed, and let us know the people in the film, so we can learn about ourselves. Hallstrom's ability to combine these qualities with comedy, romance, and even melodrama make "Grape" a rare good find.
Johnny Depp, Juliette Hodges, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mary Steenburgen, Darlene Cates, Penelope
Town eccentrics, Gilbert Grape, Lesse Hallstrom, Johnny Depp
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