top of page

Mini film review of What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

The other day I watched What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) as I had heard good things, particularly where Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting was concerned. In short, the film focuses on the life of Gilbert Grape, who comes from a dysfunctional family – his mother is so obese that she can’t leave the house, his younger brother has some kind of mental disability or autism and his father is no longer around due to hanging himself some years before. Although the story has no obvious plotline, it focuses on Gilbert’s frustration at not being able to escape everyone’s expectations of him and how finding love for the first time brings a positive change to his character (as it always does!) Gilbert’s brother Arnie is having an 18th birthday party so the events of the film lead up to that, although the film ends with Gilbert’s Mother passing away in her sleep, which is probably the main turning point. I won’t go too in depth with these reviews as I recommend watching the film for yourself but I do want to say how much I enjoyed it despite the slowness. I didn’t even really care that there wasn’t a particularly thick plot, the quality of the acting and the way the film accurately portrays small-town life in America is superb – it’s funny, it’s sad and it’s heart-warming all at the same time. I read somewhere that a big theme is the idea of being trapped – Becky is trapped in her caravan on the way to another destination, Mrs. Carver is trapped in an unhappy marriage, Mrs. Grape is trapped inside the house, Arnie is someone able trapped inside a disabled mind and Gilbert is trapped in his family role and dedication to doing things for others. I really felt Gilbert’s frustrations and was surprised at how well he managed not to snap at certain people and just carry on doing things as normal. Johnny Depp’s acting was great but of course I couldn’t help being blown away at DiCaprio’s ability to play a disabled person so accurately. I totally forgot that he was acting. This film touched me in particular because I know what it’s like to have a disabled younger brother and there were definitely many points in the film that made me smile and cry – one of them was when Gilbert hits Arnie. Obviously it’s not comfortable viewing as Arnie is so vulnerable and he doesn’t deserve to be treated that way but it’s also so upsetting because I could totally understand Gilbert’s frustration at his brother and his desire to just run away afterwards. Yep, in general I could relate to it so, so much.

I was in two minds about the ending. Of course, it’s incredibly traumatic that Mrs. Grape passes away leaving her children orphans, however in a sense they were all able to go on to live their own lives, which is what they did deserve. Mrs. Grape seemed like quite a plausible character – she was selfish but I’m sure she genuinely did care about her kids and felt the frustration of looking like a joke and embarrassment to the family. The oldest Grape sister took over as mother of the household and although the younger sister wasn’t necessarily a likeable character, I understood that for her growing up and going through puberty with such a difficult situation at home, she was bound to have some bitter feelings towards the world and even her own family. I’m sure we’ve all felt those feelings as a teenager – it’s not easy trying to navigate, haha.I’d like to hope that everything works out for the family – not too much is given away at the end but Gilbert and Becky are reunited and Arnie is as loveable as ever. Other questions remain unanswered, such as whether Mrs. Carver killed her husband or not. All in all, the film does a great job of portraying the essence of community and how living in a small town affects people in different ways as well as the effect different relationships have on people. I laughed at the opening ceremony of Burger Barn and the fact that everyone in Endora pretty much attends as it is such a huge event!Definitely recommend watching this film if you haven’t already. Very poignant but heart-warming. Might have to go and binge watch DiCaprio films now…

bottom of page