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« 100 Most Popular Foreign Films of 2018 + the Oscar Hopefuls!| Main| Christmas at TFE: The Lion In Winter »
Tuesday
Dec 18 2018

"What's Eating Gilbert Grape"- Still Wonderful!

Here's Eric Blume to celebrate the 25th anniversary ofWhat's Eating Gilbert Grape,currently available for rental on most services...

It's now been a quarter century since the release of Lasse Hallstrom'sWhat's Eating Gilbert Grape.That deeply felt family drama earns its tears not through sentimentality but through true sentiment.It's arguably Hallstrom's best film,and likely the best performances Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio have ever given.I'm happy to report,after a recent revisit,that it only looks better with age.

Hallström lays out the canvas of these characters' lives with none of the condescension or cliché that we often see in films about small-town America,and he keeps everything fizzy and surprising...

He locks into a tone that's truly seriocomic: the stakes and the feelings are big,but nothing becomes oppressive or self-serious.The Swedish director lost his grip on tone by the time the dreadfulCider House Rulescame around (to an inexplicable 7 Oscar nominations and 2 wins),but here you can see all of Hallström's humanity;he loves these characters,these actors,and scene after scene is sparked to robust life by a feeling of happy collaboration.

Given the last ten years of Depp's career,it almost seems unfathomable now to remember that he was once one of our most promising and daring actors,before he fully succumbed to stunts,caricature,and paychecks.Depp lets you feel the weight of Gilbert's anxiety and guilt,his embarrassment and fear.His life is a trap that seems to have no way out… but the performance never feels too heavy.His romance with new girl in town Juliette Lewis also feels supple and real.She's freaky in a way that feels both familiar and different to him,and Depp and Lewis fly high in their scenes together.Watching them made me pine to see them go head to head in a movie together today,one that's worthy of and revitalizes their astonishing raw talent.

And seeing DiCaprio in this movie delivers a similarly intense nostalgia.The wild abandon with which DiCaprio throws himself into the character of Arnie,Gilbert's mentally handicapped younger brother,is still thrilling all these years on.  DiCaprio's performance is unadorned,without a trace of the self-consciousness he developed in his Oscar-hunting years.Arnie is a full,living,breathing creation that the then 18 year-old actor must have spent a great deal of time mastering technically,yet onscreen this star turn is light as a feather.He takes a role that could be very fussy and overblown and keeps it simple and honest,never cheating or breaking character:  he's electrifying.

The relationship of all of the Grape children (Laura Harrington and Mary Kate Schelhardt,as the sisters,are also fantastic) to their mother remains the centerpiece of the film.Darlene Cates,who died last yearand never had another major film role,slays in this movie.Too big to move,she spends most of her screen time on a couch but packs so much power into her scenes that she brings the movie into another dimension.Her scene where she tells Depp he's her "knight in shimmering armour"pierces my heart every time.In lesser hands that sort of line and scene would beheavy-handed and cloying,but instead feels intimate and true.

What's Eating Gilbert Grapeis a personal favorite.Twenty-five years later it's now lightning in a bottle in terms of its young cast working at the peak of their powers.This story of acceptance,redemption,and freedom only becomes more touching with time.

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Reader Comments (14)

1993 is an incredible year.there are eight performances in every category that I genuinely feel uncomfortable leaving out...gotta cheat.

December 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMe

What a nice write up,pinpoints while this is 90's classic,the breeziy light tone is what makes so much fun to invest in the characters,although Lewis is still in girl child mold but works.

Totally agree that Arnie contains no DiCaprio,the shot in the car at the end with Arnie looking out is a heartbreaker,i'd have definitely given him the Oscar that year and I love Fiennes in S/List.

It's such a shame what Depp has become he hardly resembles this actor any longer.

Darlene Cates has that Oscar type clip "I want my SON",wonder why she got no citations for this performance considering the weak field they choose apart from Paquin and maybe Perez,Cates is so real.

December 18,2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I totally loved this movie.DiCaprio should have walked away with the Oscar!!!

December 18,2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Love this movie and agree it's Hailstorm's best.

Cates is astonishing.The "I want my SON"scene is indeed memorable,but the quiet moments are even more affecting,as when she tells Gilbert "I never wanted to be a joke..."Sad to hear of her passing.

Both DiCaprio and Depp have the soul of character actors and have been poorly served by the leading roles that have dominated their careers.

December 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterBiggs

I think "lightning in a bottle"captures it.Lovely film.Hallstrom's best,and probably DiCaprio's too.He was astonishing.

December 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

I think I've said it here before,but the 1993 Best Supporting Actor lineup is one of the best ever.Look at this stacked field:

DiCaprio,Gilbert Grape
Jones,Fugitive (winner)
Fiennes,Schindler's List
Postlethwaite,In the Name of the Father
Malkovich,In the Line of Fire

And the least impressive person won!Contrast this with the leaden 1999 list that Michael Caine inexplicably beat:

Caine,Cider House (winner)
Cruise,Magnolia
Osment,6th Sense
Duncan,Green Mile
Law,Talented Mr.Ripley

In my estimation,you could easily toss Duncan and Caine overboard,and replace them with Christopher Plummer (Insider) and Malkovich (Malkovich).

December 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterParanoid Android

for me Jones should NOT have won.

They were all great but Fiennes we indelible.

December 18,2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

DiCaprio not winning for this performance is in my top 5 "wtf I hate this"oscar moments of all time.I know it has become a joke and cliche to chase oscar with the "handicapped"role,but this is such a lived in,fleshed out,BEAUTIFULLY rendered creation.He calibrates each beat and moment perfectly.The fact that Tommy Lee Jones won for 'The Fugitive' over this is beyond embarrassing.I'd put it right up there with Zellwegger over Aghdashloo.

December 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterZach

Zach I agree and to some extent the performance he gave he's riffed on for years despite being good elsewhere namelt No country for Old Men and In The Valley of Elah,he was even doing this Fugitive schtick in Lincoln..

December 18,2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Hard for an incredible performance to be an embarrassing choice.Don't know what the hell anyone is talking about lol.

Those 5 plus Fishburne (who I remember as a supporting actor),Kinglsey,Penn in Carlito's Way.Hard to get around those eight,or a few different people in Short Cuts.Such a great great year.

December 18,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMe

Beautiful film.So pure and emotionally involving.Great write up!

December 19,2018 | Unregistered CommenterEoghan McQ

Cider House Rules is the only film of his I thought really nailed it.He relies on sentimentality a lot

December 19,2018 | Unregistered CommenterOrrin

This is the film that ruined Johnny Depp's career.I read a great theory and I totally agree with it.Essentially,after this film came out,he realized DiCaprio blew him away and despite being the title character,he got pushed to the background.After this point,he never took a backseat to anyone and only did big and bold,never in the background.

I like the theory.Also,he's a maniac

December 31,2018 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Like Donnie Brasco?Or Chocolat?Or Before Night Falls?

Theory doesn't work.

January 1,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe

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