Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Night 1: What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

I'm just so happy to see a movie where nothing is too hard! The acting, the story, the shots--everything about this film was simple and easy. It certainly worked to the film's advantage, too. Everything in this movie can only best be handled and dealt with a no-nonsense sensibility, a quiet charm and understanding for the way the world works.

"What's Eating Gilbert Grape?"
Nobody ever actually asks that question, and only a few people come close to wondering it. In fact, it is our privilege to even know something is new and different for Gilbert Grape, entirely. He exists in a very responsible life, a life where Gilbert Grape, is responsible for his entire family. Not uncommon. Yes. But no. Gilbert Grape has two sisters, a mentally handicapped brother, and a fat mom. Oh, but oh, does he take it all in stride, a trait that without a doubt, rules the very decisions Gilbert makes in his day to day life. Johnny Depp, as Gilbert, picks up on that easily and quickly. Gilbert is practical, pragmatic. Selfishness leads to harming the ones he loves, and he exists only to enable them to their highest, best selves.

But the experience, the experience! What are my lasting impressions of the film? Well, my movie fans (aka perhaps only Justin Osborne,) I've gotta say that I LOVED Juliette Lewis as Becky, the wandering, waifish love interest of Gilbert Grape. Holy crap, she was weird, and GOOD. Innocent. In fact, innocence is a word running rampant through this movie. In a place and time and setting and situation were desolation and desperation should run wild, it doesn't. Johnny Depp's Gilbert should be destroying everything in his path, and he doesn't. He helps. He cares. He changes lives. His brother, Arnie, played unimaginably well by Leonard di Caprio--innocent. The sisters, innocence. The mother--innocent.

This all-encompassing "innocence" I'm bestowing here, well, it's actually saying a lot. All the Grape children are sunk deep into the family history--their father hung himself in the basement. If this didn't give them a reputation immediately in a small town, the fact that the youngest bro, Arnie, is probably the town's only mentally handicapped person with a penchant for climbing a very public water tower, and the mom has gained upwards of three to four hundred pounds since her husband's death (making her, of course, the town's only morbidly obese person), does. The Gilbert's have a reputation in they're hometown they don't understand. They're messed up, washed out, poor, dirty, indecent.

And obviously, they're not.

The Gilberts are united. They stand strong, fight strong, care strong. Every child cares and watches the mom. The mom respects and honors them for doing so. The household is strained because the situation is strained, NOT because we're watching a family of desolate creatures. They're wonderful, they're amazing, they're innocent. They stand quietly in place of their lives, watching it stretch before them the way it must. Gilbert must always go on baby-sitting Arnie and bathing him, must always work full-time to support the family. The girls must always make the food, plan the events, entertain the mother. Arnie will always go on being Arnie, perpetually young, hugely irreverent. In this way, the family forges a life for themselves.

Until things change, of course.. We, as the privileged audience, watch and sit and listen and care for the various members of this family in their day to day lives. We see a girl come into Gilbert's life, and we see him responsibly let her go. We see friends come in and out of their lives, and we see them all carry the burden of their mother's depression with them.

Here's what I'm trying to say: The Gilberts are ALL burdened by their mother's depression. Years ago, she lost it. She cried, she wailed, she ate a lot of food. And now, in the aftermath, her children are dealing with the consequences. This does a LOT to a mother's psyche. Her children every day are cleaning and working and baby-sitting, while she sits on a couch and watches tv and sends along "growing up" advice. They carry the secrets too. The children know the house is caving where their mother sits all day. The children know their mom is the town freak, and work tirelessly to protect her. They are working double duty, over time, all the time, for her.

and she loves them.

So she dies. She begins to trust the strength of her family, something she found shattered years ago when her husband hung himself. Gilbert has reached out and found a love, reached out and hurt Arnie, and made amends the way he should on all accounts. The girls need lives for themselves, lives away from her, and they tend and obey and love in every way that they should. And Arnie? He's always Arnie, and he's always her sunshine. She walks up to her bedroom, and she dies.

With this, the Grape children reach freedom. From years and years of tireless piecing things together, making things work, they've suddenly become the most capable people in their hometown, opportunity stretching out in every direction. They're quiet. They're simple. They're innocent. They pick up they're innocence, and take it with them.

Leonardo diCaprio AMAZES in this movie. Without a doubt, his performances will be reviewed in the coming years and he will have a LIFETIME of achievement and excellent acting behind him.

Johnny Depp is understated and powerful. I like seeing him do so little in his film, I like seeing him so fresh and young.

Crispin Glover, John C. Reilly, and Mary Steenburgen make excellent cameos, bringing some really great texture into the film. And boy, oh boy is this movie gritty.

Grapes of Wrath?
Not a coincidence.


  1. Great review! Ah, remember the good ole' days when Depp made good choices? What is interesting to me is that I don't think this movie, if it came out today, would be nearly as highly regarded as it was in the early 90's, and therefore is today. I don't know if that's a comment on genres, the movie industry itself or the culture, but I think most studios would pass today on a story like this. Personally, I think it's the culture. Nobody likes to think anymore and this movie makes you think. And the thinking is why you have emotional reactions to this story and the people. Nowadays, movies go straight for the emotional reactions, devoid of any thought beyond the surface. So the real question is, does art imitate life or does life imitate art?...just kidding. the real question is, why don't they make (as many) good movies now?

  2. Depp makes good choices in differnt categories: 1, the ability to choose movies with depth and value. Back in the good, ole days, when he was a young actor, i bet his selection of movies was tailored much more closely to parts of Depp's reality, much as they often are for me. Since I'm an unknown actor, my agents constantly send me out for things they know i'll be exceptional in--crazy, looney, excited characters, and westerners, Texans. Depp, back in his youth, probably had lesser known, more tailored roles coming his way.
    Now he has the opportunity to play whatever he wants! Including, if we so should include it, his role in Pirates of the Caribbean, which brings me to number
    2) Depp, regardless of his movies, proves time and time again that he is a pretty darn good actor. His bad choices, at least for me, are mostly limited to the movies he winds up in. His acting choices, most often than not, are GREAT, even when he was in that weird thriller where he was a writer in a cabin in a cornfield. Srsly. What was that all about?

    I DO agree that this movie would not have the same relevance today than it used to have. BUT i think it's a trend. Movies run in trends, and I see it coming back. We need a quietly, subtly unknown powerhouse of an actor to make things successful like this, today. i.e. Me? :)
    Seriously though, if Johnny Depp hadn't been in that movie, if Leonardo diCaprio hadn't been in that movie, it would have been full of barely knowns. Depp and diCaprio bring something onscreen that doesn't actually require much "acting." Themselves. And they're FASCINATING people. They really bind the whole thing together because, regardless of the story, they are FASCINATING to watch. hmmmm, expose', anyone?

    And honestly, it really takes a director or producer who is PASSIONATE about the story. I haven't seen "Being John Malkovich," yet (it's on my list,) but I read a lot about it online, and it took FOREVER for the director to find a studio to pick it up. Passion, my friend, the main word is PASSION.

    you know, it's really terrifying to make a good movie. in theatre, it's terrifying to trust the script, to trust that the emotions will come. emotions are born of actions--so actors ACT, and the emotions are what people connect to. and in movies, you have to trust that the actions will give birth to emotions with as much depth as your actor can appropriately give. so it IS scary, and i don't believe it's probably handled entirely well.

  3. You're right, it's all relative in terms of Depp's choices. The guy can act, no doubt about it. It's just foolish to say he's not a terrific actor. And he is also a fascinating person to watch.

    My problem with his choices, as yours is, stems from the scripts, not the acting ability. More and more movies are written for a particular lead actor, like Depp, from the beginning. The effect of this habit is that when a movie makes it big, the actor becomes synonymous with that taylored character. And I don't mean typecast. I mean the character is so closely engrained into the reality of the person and their very being that they are seen as one and the same, on and off the screen. The result is that Depp is now basically playing a caricature of himself in many roles. This can easily be seen in his role of the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland. Watch that movie and tell me the script wasn't written specifically for Johnny Depp, but not just Johnny Depp, it was written for Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Depp and his work. It's a shame he can't guarantee a box office success (not counting Pirates franchise) like he used to. But if you look at the best characters he's played (Sam from Benny and Joon, Gilbert, Edward Scissorhands) none of them have been in the past 10 years. I don't blame Depp completely. He's now in a different realm than he was back then. Like you said, his choices before were based on his reality. But on the other hand, Depp is one of those very lucky actors to have played one of films most memorable characters (Edward Scissorhands) very early in his career. The guy has been seen as a gifted actor for over 20 years, so my question is, why have the last 10 years produced nothing more than a drunken pirate?

    And you're also right that movies run in trends. But what triggers the trends and what makes them come back around? I actually think a movie like this has great social relevance today, simply because the issues raised in Gilbert Grape are just as, if not more, prevalent today. The problem is, audiences now are not willing and don't want to sit through a movie like this. Family disfunction can no longer be a subject matter of a movie. It has to be a background theme in a thriller or action movie, you know?

    And your best statement - we need a powerhouse of an actor to make things successful like this! (and yes, YOU!) Things move too fast and the movie business is not keeping up now. So many classic actors are being forced to take terrible roles because the studios are pumping out more than ever! The result is that these once-icons are now being spit on by fanboys because, instead of being able to weed through the bad ones and pick the good roles, they have to take the next project or else someone else will. - Example, Righteous Kill...most disappointing experience in a theater I've ever had.

  4. I COMPLETELY agree with your thought that actors become too synonymous with the roles that are being written for them. I mentioned once that often, in breakdowns, casting people will often call for a "Jennifer Aniston type," instead of a spunky, girl next door. THAT IS TERRIBLE. There's only so much about Jennifer Aniston that could be played out in movies--what makes stories fascinating is the interesting quirks and queries that an individual actor will bring to the screen.

    So...you're absolutely right that more often than not, roles are being written for big name stars, and your example of Depp as the Mad Hatter as Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is spot on.

    Even now, in my auditions, I find that it's much easier for me to rely on what i'm good at --spunky girl--to just get my foot through the door. It makes me wonder what Depp's plans for his life are that he is taking roles again and again that rely on his ability to play these fully-fleshed out-of-the-box characters. And then, wondering where he'll take that character next. Seriously, it might be nice to see him scale it down for another situation.

    I think often that actors that move from stage to screen to stage to screen are the ones intensly focused on their craft. It's an art to be able to pull back and forth from the two, and if one is a complete artist, one will always be looking for ways to grow and improve their art. The spotlight on Depp as a looney bin may just be a way for him to pay his bills. We all do things for the money, maybe those are his.

    There's also the reality--based on your very accurate observation that the last ten years of Depp's life have produced nothing more than a drunken pirate--that Johnny Depp is really focused on something other than acting in his personal life. We'd love to see him constantly grow and change as an actor throughout his career--but the guy's old now, maybe he's doing something different. Thinking back on the last ten years of YOUR LIFE, what has changed and what has stayed the same? I just imagine that Johnny Depp has been very thorough about his work, and maybe it's old hat, by now.

    I think the trends are based entirely by the popularity of new actors. The Powerhouses. Let's say that I show up in New York or Hollywood and someone loves me. And I keep pushing and pressing myself into their view, and they respond well to it. Suddenly, I say, "i would LOVE to audition for a quiet dramatic film, something that lets me let out my acting chops," and they find a script for me, and i audition for it. BAM. done. Let's say everything is serendipitous (as all things must be in order for films to be produced,) and suddenly, the director LOVES me, and really believes in the project. And he has been talking to producers, and his fervor and again, passion, really keep him going about it. And it's picked up! And bam! We're in theatres! and bam, the general public has seen us. Well....I come from the general public. And i've set the tone for what works is relevant and important to me. The GP sets the trends...the studios and business people tend them and set the know.

    ^actually, i'd love your thoughts on trends. my mind could easily be expanded on them, and it'd be great to hear what you think.

    and actors need standards. I hate hate HATE that they have to take terrible roles in crappy movies....but they don't have to. They don't. There's always a way of making it work. What actor do you cite as an example of taking a bad role bc if they don't, someone else will? There's always going to be a someone else, and there's always going to be another project. NBD. I haven't seen Righteous Kill. I'm googling it immediately. :)