What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
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What's Eating Gilbert Grape (DVD)
Gilbert Grape (Depp) lives in Endora, a place where nothing much happens . The only times the police got something to do is when Gilb ert's autis tic brother Arnie (DiCaprio) tries to climb up on the watertower nearby. Taking care of Arnie is mostly Gilbert's task wh ich can be pretty dema nding, at least while you are working at the local grocery store. Then o ne day Becky (Lewis) and her grandmoth er passes through Endora getting trouble with the car. Gilbert falls in love with Becky, but gets problem s when he tries to find tim e for his own private life.]]>
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I believe this was one of, if not the best and most important, roles they both ever played in their careers.
This was a movie named after the main character and yet, at the same time, is one of those rare glimpses into so many lives besides his. This movie wasn't just about Gilbert. He was so neatly tucked into his world of "good guy" and putting himself second to others, that we can't help but experience the world of the other characters in his life. His brother, his mother, both of his sisters, his friends, his love interests, even his boss; they're all touching us on some deeper than normal level here. This is a movie about life, death and everything in between. It brings just a hint of "Steel Magnolias" with it.
It is demonstrated for us clearly in the movie that Gilbert was a poor substitute for his father after his passing, and yet ironically succeeded where his father did not. Though he felt like it at times, Gilbert didn't give up. The biggest tragedy was supposed to be his little brother, or so we are lead to think. But it is really his mother, a brave and strong woman at moments, but not when it came to dealing with the loss of her husband and somehow moving on. Gilbert even developed a pretty neurotic way of dealing with his mother after his father's death, I suspect because he felt a very confusing mixture of anger, shame, empathy, love and admiration.
The floor underneath his mother was supposed to be built just a little stronger than it was, and it was ever just so strong to hold her weight. We learn that it was his late father that had built that house, and he just didn't do as good a job as he thought he was doing.
Gilbert was that floor his father built and left behind.
Many times there were events involving water, not to be overlooking the water tower and rain. There was also a hint about fire (signifying change). I don't think the cigarettes in the movie were meaningless, either.
The jobs and opportunities were typical for a small cow town, though it was growing and going through some change. New business was moving in and was both exciting for some and worrisome for others. This was very on point with the small town experience and many who have grown up and lived life in one can relate. From the outside, a store or small place serving food shouldn't be that big of a deal. But it impacts small town life in a big way. It means things are never going to be the same there ever again.
In some ways I can see why the movie is so underrated, and in others I think the acting, cast and writing are so good it's scary. I don't for one moment think this movie was ever written or made with blockbuster status in mind. No, it's much more meaningful than that.
It is exactly what I suspect it was meant to be. One of those things that you stumble upon in life and don't really know what to do with, so you just experience it for what it has to offer. You then want to share it with a world that may or may not be ready for it, ultimately locking it away in your heart as something to bring you some emotion when alone and thinking stumbles upon it once again.
Each time I watch 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape?' I am transported in memory to the small town in which I was raised on the Western border of the panhandle of Idaho, population: pert near 90; almost all related one way or another. My uncle, four years younger than I, was diagnosed with several physical anomalies shortly after birth. Within a year or two, it became apparent that he was learning disabled. He tolerated several surgeries on his eyes and legs, and having seven older siblings giving him all kinds of attention, he thrived. Our small town became his little sovereign nation, of sorts, as did the Grape family and their house in the country. A sort of soft isolation which protects and nurtures can be a great defense for a while, at least. Eventually, though, the outside world must be allowed its chance to either toughen us up or do its damage. Arnie, Gilbert's affected brother, played brilliantly by Leo DiCaprio, and their mother each have issues away from the safety of home. Bonnie, having eaten herself to enormity after her husband abandons the family, so to speak, finds it very difficult both physically and emotionally to leave her house. Arnie, on the other hand, loves to take off with Gilbert whenever possible or flee into town and climb the water tower at will, regardless of consequences. Then, there is sister Ellen, a handful, who also lives at home. This leaves Gilbert, a teenager, toting a bulging load. Relief comes in the form of Becky, Juliette Lewis, who befriends Gilbert and becomes a conduit, bringing hope and dreams back to life for him.
This is by far one of my favorite movies of all time. The power behind this picture is in the alchemic synergy of Johnny Depp and Leo DiCaprio so closely paired in this great project. So many viewers have lauded DiCaprio for the genius he brought to his role, but without Depp's unique talent to receive and react...I don't know.
To sum it all up, as Gilbert puts a bandage on Arnie, he asks him, "And why am I going to make it better?"
Arnie replies, "Cause you are Gilbert."
"Cause I am Gilbert," his brother reassures.
Gilbert's problems are too much for any one man to handle, but he finds love in a girl who is trapped in town when her truck-pulling trailer breaks down. Pick-up trucks are almost characters in this flick.
The 1993 movie is blessed by an unusually large number of individual three-dimensional character studies. Minor roles are fleshed out, and real people emerge. It's a film that doesn't try to sugarcoat or look for easy solutions. At the beginning Gilbert shows some mean streaks in his attitude toward his mother, but the developing story brings out tenderness and love. It has its comic moments, its sad bits, but manages to keep the audience involved. The family's father is gone, and Gilbert is standing in for him, up to his hips in mire. The only way out is the highway leading out of the small burg, but can that offer real salvation to Gilbert?
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