What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Starring: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis, John C. Reilly, and Mary Steenburgen
Once in a while a film is able to bring out all the potential a young actor has in them. When it happens you get films like The Godfather which introduced the talent of Al Pacino, or The Deer Hunter which really launched the career of Meryl Streep. For Leonardo DiCaprio What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was that film. In just his second major role DiCaprio took on an amazingly complex character and made movie magic. This film also added in the talent of Johnny Depp as the two paired wonderfully in this dramatic and wonderful story.
Gilbert Grape (Depp) is a young man taking on the role of father and provider for his shut-in mother and his disabled brother Arnie (DiCaprio). With his struggling family in tow Gilbert struggles to find his own life. Along the way he finds young love with Becky (Lewis) and moral conflict thanks to a desperate housewife (Steenburgen). With Arnie always on his mind, Gilbert looks to expand his horizons and make a life for himself.
If you haven’t seen this film it’s easy to look at the synopsis and wonder what redeeming qualities this movie might have. That’s where Depp and DiCaprio step in and make this a powerful film with a unique story. Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Carribean, Edward Scissorhands) works perfectly in his role as the loving, but often frustrated older brother. Throughout the film he shows the kind of energy and skill that seems too advanced for someone so young. Variety said “Depp manages to command center screen with a greatly affable, appealing characterization.”
Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar, The Departed) is even more wonderful in his role. Film Review called DiCaprio’s work “a performance of astonishing innocence and spontaneity”. He even spent time in a home for mentally disabled teens to understand more about who his character should be. This attention to detail made this performance an honest and respectful portrayal of someone with extreme mental disabilities. It felt as though he had taken on real disability, as opposed to simply mimicking the behaviors as he observed them. This performance gained DiCaprio notice from all over, including Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor.
This is a wonderful movie that takes on a number of tough subjects with emotion and honesty. The movie has great visuals to go along with the wonderful performances. This is a really good movie to watch for anyone who loves drama or just want to see great acting. I give this movie 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Running Time: 118 minutes