What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

by Kishentharan Baskaran

LimKokWing University of Creative Technology

Diploma in Mass Communication (Faculty of Communication, Media and Broadcasting) Semester 2


Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13

Cast:    Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis, Darlene Cates, Mary Steenburgen, John C Reilly

Director: Lasse Hallstrom


‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ is an appealing and delightful story that starts out gloomy and turns into a sensible, truthful and hopeful approach to life.

The slow-paced, introspective movie sees characters from a small town in Iowa experience the pleasantness of first love, the suffering caused by rejection, the misery of losing someone and the dullness of life.

Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) works at a grocery store to provide for his family: mentally-challenged brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), morbidly obese mother Bonnie (Darlene Cates) and his two sisters Amy (Laura Harrington) and Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt)

Gilbert is a character who has become numb to the difficulties in his life.  He goes about his day to day routine with no emotion, comparable to Arnie’s unawareness of the problems around him and his childlike naivete that allows him to live happily.

The movie doesn’t really pick up speed until Gilbert begins face his emotions in the story. This happens when Becky (Juliette Lewis) and her grandmother arrive in town.

Gilbert is always stressed and worried about others, but Becky makes him start thinking and questioning things about himself. She makes him think about his beliefs and also acts as a catalyst for Gilbert to start thinking more about himself than others, helping him to become a better individual.

Bonnie’s obesity is a source of embarrassment for Gilbert, so much so that he even boosted a neighbourhood kid who tried to peek on her sitting in the living room up to the window in an earlier scene. Eventually he realises that he needs his mother and loves her very much. He stops being ashamed of her when he invites Becky home to meet his mother.

Without doubt, ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ would make a great family-fare for those who have adolescents. Parents might find the issues brought up in the movie, such as how a community can act towards those who are different, as fodder for essential family talk or life teachings.


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