Gilbert Grape is a small-town young man with a lot of responsibility. Chief among his concerns are his mother, who is so overweight that she can't leave the house, and his mentally impaired younger brother, Arnie, who has a knack for finding trouble. Settled into a job at a grocery store and an ongoing affair with local woman Betty Carver, Gilbert finally has his life shaken up by the free-spirited Becky.
I recently watched this movie again after many years, and was surprised how many details I had forgotten. It features a great ensemble cast who seem to mostly share a screen rapport. Leonardo DiCaprio previews his future star career with a stellar performance as the difficult Arnie. I thought the scene where husband Mr. Carver comes home from work and obsesses over the burnt cookies and the unused swimming pool was silly and a bad fit for the film, especially consider what came after the scene. Meanwhile the two sisters were great characters: they were emotional when the situation called for it, but gave an even and restrained performance. I would have like to have seen more of them.
**A rather conventional and average family drama, where DiCaprio and Depp's performances turn out to be the only truly worthy note.** Sometimes, what makes a film remarkable is the extraordinary performance of an actor, and that becomes even more admirable when that actor is extremely young. That's what we have in this film, a conventional family drama, where a young adult tries to live his life as normally as possible while having to take care of everyone around him, particularly his mother, who is morbidly obese and depressed, and his younger brother, who has a mental problem that the movie never really specifies. In fact, I didn't find the script particularly interesting. Cinema is full of family dramas, and this one has nothing really new or fresh to add. And if the script doesn't seem remarkable to me, the production values and technical aspects deserve even less attention, with the film betting on very conventional and average visuals, and a pace that sometimes slows down and falters, the result of an editing not always well executed. What makes the film more interesting is the cast, which includes two young actors, then very promising, called Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. Depp is older than DiCaprio, and his career was relatively established when he agreed to star in this film. DiCaprio, on the other hand, was still an unknown young man and was beginning to emerge. However, the collaboration between them, in this film, is remarkable, and it seems that both knew how to get the best out of each other, to our benefit. Although today we know Depp through a wide range of peculiar characters, what he did in this film is the complete opposite, and his character is one hundred percent ordinary, responsible, mature and strong. DiCaprio, however, stands out the most, even more than Depp. Playing a mentally disturbed teenager, DiCaprio had a lot of leeway to study and design the character and his mannerisms and tics. The result is truly credible and surprising. Mary Steenburgen and Darlene Cates provide very effective support and give us the best female performances. In absolute counterpoint, Juliette Lewis doesn't have much to do, while Laura Harrington and Mary Kate Schellhardt practically disappear when they're on the scene.
So, I had no idea who Leonardo was when I saw this back in the 90s, it was before Titanic, before he made it big, and I thought they hired an intellectually disabled man to play the part. And it dropped in '93 so that would make Dicaprio about 19? Maybe 18 when they made it? I doubt they would give an Oscar to a kid that young, but see that he's CLEARLY not Intellectually Disabled and how believable he was, well, that's probably one of the best performances I've seen. That was Oscar worthy. Besides that, it was really a Johnny Depp vehicle... as much as a 90s indy film can be, and he played a calm, low key, and utterly charming role in a film about a man that had to maybe grow up too fast and deal with too much at too young an age. And, of course, a charming little love story. A charming story about family. About loyalty. There is honestly absolutely nothing to criticize here, except, it's certainly a 90s story, a 90s movie, and if you are removed from Gen-X, it might not have the appeal. This isn't the over-the-top FX sort of films that are a hallmark of the Millennial generation... ...but beyond that, KUDOS to Leo for nailing it as such a young age, and a cheers to everyone else involved for making a brilliant and entertaining hidden gem of a film