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Case Number 01586

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What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

Paramount // 1993 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // December 17th, 2001

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All Rise...

The Charge

Life is a terrible thing to sleep through.

Opening Statement

As usual, Johnny Depp has made yet another odd choice by playing the title character in the slice of life movie What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat) and costarring Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers), Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic), and Mary Steenburgen (Back To The Future Part III), What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is now on DVD care of Paramount Home Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

Gilbert Grape (Deep) lives in Endora, Iowa, where, as Gilbert puts it, "nothing ever happens." Yet at the same time it seems that everything is happening in Gilbert's little world. Gilbert lives with his obscenely overweight mother (Darlene Cates), his two sisters, and a retarded brother named Arnie (DiCaprio). Gilbert works at a local food store that is being threatened by a large "Foodmart" chain that just moved in on the outskirts of town, while subsequently attempting to keep Arnie under control (he has a fascination with climbing the local water tower). Soon Gilbert's mundane life is shaken by the arrival of Becky (Lewis), a cute cross-country traveler who gets stuck in Endora with her grandmother due to car troubles. At the same time, Gilbert is having an affair with a neighboring housewife (Steenburgen) who calls on him for "special deliveries." A day in the life of the Grapes is anything but ordinary.

The Evidence

What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is a very hard film to pigeon hole. It has shades of comedy, yet it's not really a comedic film. It has shades of drama, but it's not really a dramatic film. It even has some romantic qualities in it, yet I wouldn't say that this is a romantic movie. What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is a hard movie to classify, and because of this it makes the film that much more special. There really isn't much of a typical "story" going on in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. Instead, this movie observes people going about their everyday lives. Granted, these people may be a bit quirkier than you or I, but the offbeat characters are what gives the film its unusual charm.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape? was adapted by Peter Hedges from his novel and unfolds beautifully and poignantly. Hedges obviously knows these characters inside and out. It's a testament to the writer and the actors that these people aren't looked down upon or made up as one note jokes. While characters in the film may laugh at Gilbert's mother's weight, the audience never gets in on their joke. Even Arnie, who does and says some very funny things, is a sympathetic character. At the core of the film is Johnny Depp's performance as Gilbert. Depp has made a career out of playing outsiders and goofballs (want proof? Look no further than Ed Wood, Cry Baby, or Sleepy Hollow). Here Depp gives a sweet and subtle performance as Gilbert. For those who think that Leonardo DiCaprio is just a pretty face, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is proof that DiCaprio is a talented and gifted performer. DiCaprio was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as Arnie, and darned if I think he deserved that little gold statue. Everyone else in this movie does a wonderful job with their roles. Newcomer Darlene Cates is excellent as the obese Mama, and the wacky Crispin Glover even shows up as a weird undertaker who enjoys chatting about his morbid job.

This won't be a movie to everyone's taste. What's Eating Gilbert Grape? can sometimes be slow, but maybe that's the point; in Endora, things don't need to move quickly to happen. Sometimes life moves at its own sweet pace. One of the joys of What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is watching the Grapes' story unfold with dignity, humor and a slightly weird sense of the absurd.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While the colors and black levels all look natural and sharp, overall there is a softness to the picture that sometimes becomes distracting. However, this can be overlooked as it's the only major problem with this transfer. Overall, Paramount has done a nice job on this print by making sure that there is no grain, dirt, or major imperfections in the picture.

Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. Sadly, I can't say that this 5.1 soundtrack was all that impressive. There were hardly any uses of surround used on this track; the bulk of the dialogue, music, and effects coming mainly from the center speaker. This is a dialogue driven film so the need for an aggressive soundtrack wasn't needed, but I still think that there could have been a little more effort placed on the surround sounds. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.

The only extra feature available on this disc is a theatrical trailer for What's Eating Gilbert Grape?.

Closing Statement

This small town romp is definitely worth your time and money. No matter what film he's featured in, I always seem to enjoy Johnny Depp's performance. DiCaprio does an excellent job as the mentally challenged Arnie, and while this disc isn't all that impressive, it does include a nice widescreen presentation that should please fans.

The Verdict

Paramount is slapped with a small fine for only mediocre work on this disc while the film is free to go!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 87
Audio: 81
Extras: 20
Acting: 98
Story: 97
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer


• IMDb

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