Over a decade ago, I came down with some sort of odd illness that put me in a hospital bed for a week. During that time, all I could do was play video games and watch TV, so my mom found all the movies she could find in hopes that I wouldn’t go insane from boredom. One of these movies was “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, and as a twelve-thirteen year old, I didn’t really comprehend it very well except for the fact that Jonny Depp didn’t look like a gay pirate and Leonardo DiCaprio was young and mentally handicapped.
So I watched it on Netflix last night, and it’s a very solid movie. It was rather fascinating seeing all of these actors like Depp, DiCaprio, John C. Reilly, Juliette Lewis, and Crispin Glover play in a movie that came out when I was two years old.
Out of all the performances in this movie, DiCaprio’s was by far the best, and that’s because I never doubted for a second that he was mentally deficient. I struggle to imagine how that man managed to master his acting craft enough to play a handicapped boy so successfully and sincerely at the age of 18.
This movie is about a disjointed family with a missing father, a morbidly obese mother who cannot take care of herself physically or emotionally, and a brother who cannot even bathe himself on his own. Because of these family members, Gilbert and his two sisters must carry the weight of the entire family. The struggle convolutes so many aspects of the family’s life, and this movie does a fantastic job of fleshing out these struggles. Gilbert is stuck in a small town where everyone knows everyone else and nothing significant happens, and he will be there indefinitely because he has to take care of his family.
The trapped feeling isn’t just physical, but psychological. Gilbert and his sisters often feel the need to conceal things from their fragile mother for the good of the family. This dishonesty seems to leak through to all aspects of their lives. Archie (DiCaprio) is the only one in the family who doesn’t feel the need to be dishonest because he doesn’t know any better, and this dynamic made for some really emotional and tense scenes.
I also appreciated just how real everything felt. There are a lot of movies these days that try to create a common-man story by casting the most ridiculously good looking people on the face of the planet, and “Gilbert Grape” doesn’t really do that. None of these people are necessarily horrendous looking, but when I look at every actor, they look like normal people, and it helps me believe what I’m seeing is actually real.
Of course, this aspect does not mean anything significant unless you cast good actors. Thankfully, all the performances in this movie are great.
If there’s any complaints about this movie, it’s that the pacing sometimes feels really slow. There were times where I felt bored and was wondering when the movie was going to be over. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so use to the incredibly fast pacing of today’s movies or if it’s an actual criticism, but either way, being bored in a movie is being bored in a movie.
I’m glad I finally got to watch What’s Eating Gilbert Grape again now that I’m at an age where my cinematic tastes have matured past wanting to see people fight and explode all the time. If you have a taste for the dramatic and the heartfelt, this movie is an excellent watch. If not for anything else, this is definitely one of the first testaments to how great of an actor DiCaprio is, and I’m giving this movie an 8 out of 10.