Starring: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis
Director: Lasse Hallström
Running Time: 118 mins
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is an American film about a young man living in a sleepy Southern town whilst caring for his morbidly obese mother and developmentally disabled younger brother.
This is an excellent film. I loved a lot about What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, from the great performances of the cast full of future A-listers, to the emotional power of the very understated and intelligently-told story. It may not be packed with high drama from start to finish, but this film does a fantastic job at making its world as realistic and intriguing as possible.
The best part of this film is its cast. As I said, it’s got a heap of current Hollywood stars when they were younger. Including Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis, John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen and more, the actors all do brilliantly to convey this story’s often hard-hitting themes, and the character’s incredibly human responses to the events that unfold.
Of course, this was the film that gave Leonardo DiCaprio his breakthrough in Hollywood. He is brilliant as Arnie Grape, a young boy with a disability, and he gives such a convincing and well-worked performance both physically and emotionally. However, DiCaprio isn’t the main focus here, it’s Johnny Depp, who is also fantastic.
I’ve never been a big fan of Depp, and despite seeing the odd decent performance, he’s almost become a caricature of himself nowadays. However, back in 1993, in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, he gives a very calm and assured performance that has real depth. Whilst Gilbert does occasionally go wrong, Depp manages to show the emotional difficulties that he’s experiencing while caring for his family, and the impact of that isn’t only strong from the beginning, but it grows as the film goes on, which is always excellent to see.
The way that this story develops is also hugely impressive. It’s not a film that wants to focus on high drama, or too much about the disabilities of Gilbert’s brother and mother, but instead on the real emotions and hardships of the people, and because of that, it remains a much more understated, but subtly powerful watch.
Alongside the emotional depth and intrigue, the pacing here was amazing. It moves along at that sort of speed where, whilst you recognise that it’s going pretty slowly, it never bogs down. The emotional side keeps every moment engaging, and the consistency and steadiness of the pace makes it a hugely appealing watch.
Finally, the film’s atmosphere is excellent too. The most prevalent feeling is a more hard-hitting, often depressing one. However, through the use of some moments of comedy (albeit quite dark), and some beautifully uplifting and pleasant ones, this never feels like a real downer. You get the emotional impact, but it’s never too dark that it’s unwatchable, so overall, I’m giving What’s Eating Gilbert Grape an 8.1.