Wow, 1993 seems like only yesterday, & at the same time a million years ago. When I first saw, & loved, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, I was not yet weary of seeing Johnny Depp playing pretty-pretty weirdos, & just enjoyed his performance endlessly.
And it was my very first exposure to Leonardo DiCaprio, about whom I knew nothing, & wondered if that actor playing Arnie really was retarded & yet that brilliantly natural a performer.
I kind of worried I might never get to see him in anything ever again, as how many great roles are there for retarded actors. Again, these years later, I have become less rather than more impressed with DiCaprio as an actor, but his astonishing performance in Gilbert Grape can still amaze.
Even that homely beauty Juliette Lewis as the angelic trailer trash Becky was astounding. I kind of got a crush on her & started seeing everything she was in, good or bad, & she rarely disappointed. Though again, over time, the appeal has worn down more than a little.
All three actors were at the top of their game. Juliette's career would decline mainly because women who don't fit the mold to begin with & then have the audacity to get older just don't get the roles unless they produce their own films. And Depp & DiCaprio became rather too successful so that their chances of ever appearing in films this good again are pretty slim, since the starting bid for their participation would exceed the budget of any sincere, quality artfilm by factors of ten.
As a cynical old curmudgeon I'm not easily won over by "sweet" films, but this one so perfectly balanced the sadness & fragility & disappointment of life, with the moments of innocence & sweetness.
The conflict within Gilbert, who loved but felt saddled with all responsibility for his brother & morbidly obese mother, is actually very weighty stuff; the moments of lightness in the film never undermines that Gilbert's balance of love & resentment, or the film's balance of light & dark.
Darlene Cates as the enormously fat widowed mother could've been only the freak element of the story, but director Lasse Hallstrom got such a fine performance out of this non-professional actress, with an incredible depth of humanity & even heroism when she sets out, for the first time in years, into the world when her son needs her.
The story is simple enough. Gilbert is too young for so much responsibility, his huge mom & retarded brother entirely reliant on him for the basics of survival, though his crap job in a failing small-town corner-grocery earns hardly enough to support just him.
There are moments of deep sadness, but unlike the sort of films that get tagged "three-hanky weepers," the emotion is never just manipulated from the viewer; it's authentic, from the heart of the characters.
When Becky enters his life, Gilbert has a chance for a life of his own, if only he weren't so heavily burdened in a life that is not his own. Within this structure we get bittersweet character studies that are among the most captivating ever captured on film.
If there are any faults to the film, it's the "extra" characters of Gilbert's sisters never making a large impact on the story. Still, overall, even the extensive supporting cast never faulters.
There are so many great moments in the film, & one "big" event when momma gets an ad hoc funeral service right out of Viking legend. But it is the film's quietest moments that are its most outstanding, with heroism redefined as the anguish, simplicity, & glory of the human capacity for love.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl