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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/12/01

What's Eating Gilbert Grape
1993 (2001) - Paramount

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

What's Eating Gilbert Grape Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A-/D-

Specs and Features

117 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 56:52, at the start of chapter 8), keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (17 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

"We're not going anywhere!"

Just when I thought I couldn't get any more depressed, I had to pop in What's Eating Gilbert Grape on DVD. Don't get me wrong - technically, Paramount did a great job of bringing this film home to the DVD format. And I have always loved this movie. It's just that… well, if you're having a bad week, it's not going to cheer you up any.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a poignant, bittersweet look into the life of a young man with the world both at his fingertips, and also on his shoulders. Gilbert (Johnny Depp) has come of age and is looking for much more out of life than his sleepy Iowa town can offer. But he's tied to his family, who relies on him for day-to-day care. Gilbert's younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio in the best performance of his career so far) is mentally retarded, and requires constant attention, lest he get into some kind of "innocent" life-threatening situation - like climbing to the top of a 150-foot water tower. Gilbert's momma (Darlene Cates) is a 500-pound shut-in, who needs not only physical attention, but mental support as well. Arnie and Gilbert have two sisters, but the oldest works all the time and the youngest is a 15-year-old brat who resents everyone she lays eyes on. And if all this weren't enough, the family has had to deal with their father's suicide. It's up to Gilbert to keep the family together, which he begrudgingly does. But it's not until the happenstance arrival of the angelic Becky (Juliette Lewis) that Gilbert realizes how valuable family love can be. In the end, Gilbert must learn that balancing tragedy and harsh reality with his dreams and desires is part of life, and is the key to releasing his repressed happiness.

Truthfully, What's Eating Gilbert Grape is, for the most part, something of downer. Without giving too much away, the ending does provide a glimmer of hope, but it seems too little too late. Not that this is a bad thing. Anyone who has "talked film" with me before knows how much I appall tacked-on, happy Hollywood endings. So, in this respect, I dig this film a lot. All I'm trying to say is that if you need your films to wrap up in a shiny, happy package, this probably isn't the flick for you - you'll likely find the experience unpleasant. Gilbert Grape is hard to watch, but the overall experience is beautifully melancholic. Peter Hedges' touching script (which is based on his own novel) is complemented by Lasse Hallström's exquisite, multi-dimensional direction (Hallström went on to helm Chocolát and The Cider House Rules). For the sake of saving the purple prose, know that there really isn't one bad performance in the film. Supporting actors include John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover (YES!) and Mary Steenburgen, all showing their stuff like pros. For my money, the most moving performance of this film belongs to Darlene Cates, for her heartbreaking portrayal of Gilbert's very overweight (and very emotionally scarred) momma. Her performance is laced with incredible sincerity and depth, especially for a somewhat peripheral, supporting role.

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image on this DVD is solid, featuring good detail, with only minor softness in some areas. The source print contains a few inconsequential blemishes and sparkles, but not enough to really be a problem. Paramount's use of the dual-layer format was a pleasant surprise, given that most of their movie-only discs are single-layered. The pay-off is an absence of ugly compression artifacting. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is highlighted by good vocal representation and smooth, clear reproduction of the film's gentle score. The very nature of this film doesn't lend itself to an active surround sound experience, but the DVD's audio more than gets the job done. Unfortunately, the only extra is the film's theatrical trailer.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape is not a film that will appeal to everyone. But if you're attracted to emotional, character-driven cinema, then you owe it to yourself to make spinning Gilbert Grape a priority. A note to all of you women out there, who swooned madly over DiCaprio in Titanic: be prepared for a very different Leo here. 'Nuff said.

Greg Suarez
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