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What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
cast: Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo Di Caprio, Mary Steenburgen, and John C. Reilly

director: Lasse Hallström

119 minutes (12) 1993 widescreen ratio 1.85:1 EV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Gilbert Grape lives in Endora, Iowa: "describing it," he famously says, "is like dancing to no music." He's holding together his dysfunctional family - mentally challenged brother Arnie, who has a penchant for climbing tall buildings; his worn down, frustrated sisters; and his grossly obese mother, who hasn't left the house since the day her apparently happy husband committed suicide. His only enjoyment is a comically doomed relationship with a frustrated housewife, Betty. He seems to be stuck in the same rut as Endora itself - until the day that one of the touring caravans that annually migrate through the town breaks down, and stays. Through his growing attraction to free spirit Becky, who spends her life touring the country with her grandmother, Gilbert begins to rebel against the burdens that his family impose upon him. But as Arnie's 18th birthday approaches, all their lives are about to change forever...
   Despite its small-town whimsy, Hallström's quirky, passionate movie accurately captures the frustrations of ordinary people bound by the past. Gilbert adores his family, but they're destroying him as surely as his mother's gigantic frame is slowly shaking their rickety home to pieces - a heavy-handed metaphor that should be annoying, but somehow fits perfectly with the offbeat tone. Much of the strength of the movie lies in small moments - the betrayal inherent in Gilbert's trip to Foodland, or a long-delayed confrontation with Betty's inanely cheerful - and strangely threatening - husband.
   The performances are a major factor in the film's success: Johnny Depp's Gilbert is a magnetic yet understated performance, a perfect contrast to Juliette Lewis' confident, tender Becky. Leonardo Di Caprio is excellent (and I never thought I'd say that!) as the innocent, endlessly demanding Arnie. Less saccharine-filled than some of Hallström's later work, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is an engrossing, deeply moving film.
   Despite its minimal disc extras - a trailer and patched-together soundbite interviews - this DVD release is the perfect chance to catch up with this gentle cult classic. Highly recommended.

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