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What's Eating Gilbert Grape

I wasn’t even alive when this movie was made and released, so I can’t speak for its success at its time, but the fact that I still managed to see it (again and again) speaks to its quality and longevity. Let’s stop beating around the bush and get to it, shall we?

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a 1993 film starring Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, and a whole bunch of other currently super well-known actors like Mary Steenburgen and Juliette Lewis. It centers around the titular Gilbert (Depp), a grocery store clerk in a small, boring Iowa town, as he takes care of his obese mother and mentally impaired younger brother, Arnie (DiCaprio).

There’s no intricate story here, no heart racing drama, no exploding conflict, but simply a look at the lives of the Grape family, their bond with each other and the relationships they form with the others in their town. Gilbert is stuck in a monotonous life, working for a grocery store that barely sees any foot traffic anymore as all its clientele’s moved on to more attractive places like the new, shiny supermarket. He’s got a lil’ secret affair thingy going on with a married woman (Steenburgen), and has his hands full watching over Arnie, who’s prone to get himself in trouble because of his inability to sit still. Things start to change for him when he meets Becky (Lewis), a woman who gets stranded in town after her trailer breaks down.

With Becky’s appearance and Arnie’s upcoming 18th birthday party, things feel like they’re suddenly moving for Gilbert, but he’s one person who can’t be in several places at once, so he ends up having to choose where he wants to be and what he wants to do, leading to some trouble.

Add to that the drama with his affair, his mother’s shame at her obesity (and struggle to move – in the house and outside), and his duty to fix his house, and Gilbert’s got a full plate.

For such a mellow movie, there’s a lot of moving pieces, but the pace remains just right. It’s a perfect summer movie, chill and heartwarming enough to be enjoyed on a day in, but still absolutely capable of tugging at your heartstrings. There’s just the right amount of escalating conflict and build-up to make it engaging without tiring you out or breaking from its style, and the perfect amount of surprise to keep things fresh.

I can’t talk about this movie without mentioning DiCaprio’s performance. He’s simply incredible, and to think he pulled this off at 19 years old, a performance so detailed, down to the small hand gestures and tics, is astonishing. You don’t see an actor for one second, he completely embodies the role of Arnie and steals the show from everyone else in the cast. No wonder it got him his first Academy Award nomination.

There’s really not very much to say about What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, it’s a simple story but it’s sentimental and heartwarming nonetheless. The fact that I’ve only watched it once as a kid and it stayed with me for over a decade says a lot about its impact on me, it’s got a really lovely message and real tear-jerking moments. Add to that the warm, modest setting and the actors’ performances, and you’ve got yourself a quality movie. I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone who wants to take a break from anything intense and just relax with a good movie. You won’t regret it.

As always, thank you for reading, and see you next week!