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.