My rating: 8.5/10.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape is one of those real gems you unexpectedley find. It is amazing to watch how incredibly fantastic Leonardo Dicaprio was during his late adolescence and before his prime. There can definitely be no doubt about whether he deserved the Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He truly is a demonstration of what a good actor is. Someone that starts off with amazing potential and just manages to grow and develop into the mature actor we know him as today.
The film depicts a working class family in the one-street town of Endora. The Grape's consist of two sisters Ellen and Amy, and two brothers Gilbert (Johnny Depp) and Autistic Arnie (Dicaprio). As well as trying to look after their morbidly obese mother Bonnie, they are also striving to live without a real father figure, lack of a decent wage and the highley dependable Arnie. Our hero Gilbert, being the 'man' of the house is the one that has to sacrifice any want for much of a social life or romance in order to work, whilst simultaneously look after an unpredictable Arnie. This becomes the norm until the freespirit Becky (Juliette Lewis) arrives in town for a few days allowing Gilbert to grasp onto a new direction of life.
Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom really manages to effectively portray the mental claustrophobia of Gilbert's life. He heavily depends on a range of close ups of the character's as the main way of emotion. Luckily the cast is made up of very talented people and so they are able to effortlessly produce Hallstrom's desired reactions with their facial expressions - allowing the subtelty of the film to shine through.
Johnny Depp is of course fabulous. With already having cemented himself into the film world as an established actor, his performance in this really highlights the reason why he's there. His character is believable and he doesn't try too hard to make us like him. It is the reserved method of acting that we see, which allows the creation of the empathy.
I wish I could say the same for Juliette Lewis, however I'm just not a fan. She seems to be the same in everything I've seen her in (which admittedly isn't a great deal) and that 'same' is a monosyllabic, bland, emotionless bore. I just didn't warm to her character at all and felt she offered nothing more to the role than what was written on the script. When she spoke, I felt she sometimes made it sound like her character also had mental difficulties. But aside from her, the rest of the cast were great.
With the location being so small, this film risks the danger of the setting becoming boring, however this definitely does not become the case. Hallstrom efficiently uses the scenery and turns the recurring props into motif's. In doing this, it means the character's are forced to dynamically encorporate them into their portrayal. Matches for example is one thing in particular that Gilbert often uses which also becomes an integral component that drives a lot of the plot's substance forward.
The music to this deserves a lot of credit for the endearing nature the film possesses. It's not a big score, or a bizarre, unexpected arrangement of notes. In keeping with the rest of the tone, it plays with a lot of subtelty as well as providing a softener effect to the harsh realities that the film is showing. It is a beautiful charmer that completely draws you into the world and I believe without it, the film would force you into more of a downward struggle.
Overall, I think this film is a greatly underplayed piece of cinema that highley deserves to be seen - it truly is a great watch. If you don't see this for the story or the film itself, I strongly urge you to see it for Dicaprio and Depp. I think their performances alone are engaging enough to keep your attention throughout.