Friday, January 10, 2014

Movie Review #1: What's Eating Gilbert Grape

As per my resolutions for the year, I've begun my journey into watching 52 new movies (one for every week though, obviously, not one every week). My first movie was chosen on a whim while browsing Netflix while at home, still dealing with the illness that's been plaguing me since Texarkana. In the future, I expect I'll be watching a lot of these movies with company. My plan is to post the upcoming movie somewhere at the office along with the time and place and anyone who wants to join me is welcome. However, considering that I'm sick, it's probably okay that I watched this one alone.


What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a 1993 movie starring Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. Johnny and Leo play Gilbert and Arnie Grape. Arnie is a mentally disabled child, about to turn 18 despite the fact that he wasn't expected to survive to the age of 10. Gilbert is his older brother, burdened by his duties to care for Arnie and earn enough money to take care of the household he shares with his morbidly obese mother and two sisters. Stuck in a middle of nowhere town, Gilbert wastes away under the pressure of his responsibility, having no time to think of himself, until one day a girl and her grandmother get stranded in the town during a cross-country trip. After hitting it off with the new girl, Gilbert struggles to balance his duty to his family and his personal desires.


Right off the bat we have two dangerous subjects that this movie not only touches upon but addresses directly: mental disability and obesity. There are a thousand ways you can approach these issues and come off as callous, offensive, or (at the very least) ignorant.

That said, I thought the movie handled these subjects very well. I believe it helped that the story is rooted in the real life experiences of the author, so he was able to draw on the reality of caring for the disabled. Likewise, the actress who played "Momma" was, in fact, an actual obese woman, playing the part after having not left her house for five years. Apparently she read through the script and was very critical, but in the end was satisfied that the role was not a joke but a sympathetic part.

Which, really, is the core of the entire film: sympathy. These people are all in a bad spot, surviving day to day but hardly living at all. By the end of the movie some of these problems are resolved, some end tragically, and still others never actually resolve. Quick spoiler, though, in case you're concerned about deaths: Arnie doesn't die. 

It was interesting to watch Leo play the mentally disabled Arnie Grape. It might have been different for anyone who actually has spent a lot of time with his sort of disability, but to me it seemed obvious that Leo came into the role prepared. Oddly, the most distracting thing was that he simply didn't look like Leonardo DiCaprio. He looked so young that I didn't even think he passed as an 18-year-old (Leo was at least that old at the time of filming).

Johnny Depp, on the other hand, looks exactly the same in this 1993 movie as he does now. The funny thing is that in the movie Gilbert's apparent two best friends are played by John C. Reilly and Crispin Glover, both of which look like they would be a little too old to be Gilbert's best friends, even though both Reilly and Glover are actually younger than Depp.


In the end, the movie made me tear up a few times, which is good if you're into that sort of thing (emotional releases are healthy, from what I understand). The acting was well done, especially from the leads. At nearly two hours long, the pacing could get a little ponderous at times. Still, I don't recall ever becoming bored.

I recommend it.

1 comment:

  1. Definitely one of my favorite movies. I first saw this during my "Leo craze" of 8th grade after I'd seen Titanic. I wasn't expecting to watch such a heavy movie at age 13, but I'm glad I saw it when I did. I agree that Leo's portrayal of a mentally-disabled boy is great, and it showed me, even back then, that he's more than just a pretty face with good hair.

    I'd like to watch it again sometime now that I'm older and I can relate more to Gilbert's struggle. What I mostly remember about the movie is being impressed by Leo's acting and feeling really, really bad for the mother.