What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Directed by Lasse Hallström. Starring Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Mary Steenburgen, Leonardo DiCaprio, John C. Reilly, Darlene Cates. (1993, PG-13, 117 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 11, 1994
Based on Peter Hedges's award-winning book (he also wrote the screenplay for the film), Swedish director Lasse Hallström's new film treads similar thematic territory as his brilliant My Life as a Dog, but does so in a much more accessible way. Depp is the titular Grape, a young man living out his days in the tiny Ohio town of Glendora. Gilbert works at the local micro-grocery, has an ongoing affair with the wife (Steenburgen) of the local insurance salesman, and takes care of his gargantuan, 500-pound mother (Cates) and his mentally handicapped brother Arnie (DiCaprio), not to mention his two sisters. It seems there's really no one taking care of Gilbert, though, and because of this, he's put his dreams on hold and insulated himself from the pain through a haze of seeming disinterest. He's sleepwalking his way through life. Reveille comes in the form of a girl named Becky(Lewis), who, traveling cross-country with her grandmother, settles on the outskirts of town when their giant silver Airstream camper breaks down. Becky's just what Gilbert's been looking for, although he's not fully aware of the fact. In her eyes he finds a kindred soul to share things with. It's obvious right away that he's falling in love, he just doesn't know it yet: he's half-blinded by years of sloughing off his desires like an old coat. Shot in and around Manor last summer, Hallström and Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist cloak the film in the ruddy, dusty colors of a sweltering central Texas summertime. Nykvist's shots are gorgeous to behold; sometimes you just wish the actors would get out of the way and let the sunset speak for itself. They don't, though, but it turns out that's not such a bad thing after all. Depp is perfectly cast as Gilbert, by turns sullen, quiet, and caring. Depp's expressive face has long been the focal point of his talent, and he uses it to excellent effect here. It's DiCaprio as Gilbert's retarded brother Arnie who may well get the Oscar statuette. He's utterly, tragically convincing as the boy who wasn't expected to make it to ten, much less eighteen years old. All tics, flailings, and full-open, drooling laughter, DiCaprio seems to have captured the damaged heart and soul of Arnie Grape. Like the town it's set in, the film occasionally seems to be moving at too lazy a pace, but then this isn't a story you can hurry. It just takes it's time, like a sweaty Texas sunset, and that's not a bad thing at all.