What's Eating Gilbert Grape

What's Eating Gilbert Grape ★★★★

Film #8 of 'It's June Jim, but not as we know it.'

One thing I do when deciding what to watch next is to go to the films page and click on one of the most popular four films on Letterboxd, go through the main star's filmography and check out what I haven't seen. This is how I came via The Great Gatsby and Leonardo DiCaprio to What's eating Gilbert Grape, a film whose existence I was fully aware of yet somehow managed to elude me for many years.

I am not a fan of Hallstrom. His films are usually sappy and too sweet for my liking. This film could have gone that route as well and sometimes falls into that trap, but it mostly manages to avoid shallow sentiment, leaving behind a film that is life affirming and genuinely touching.

This has everything to do with the cast, of which DiCaprio without a shadow of a doubt, gives the best performance of his career. The authenticity he brings to the role at such a young age is truly admirable, making his Arnie a character easy to love. Depp is also excellent as Gilbert, a boy who is forced to take on the role of an adult and who feels the constant pressure of life dragging him down. His outlook on life is not positive and he seems caught in a kind of existential Limbo, a place he doesn't want to be in but doesn't seem to be able to get out of. Until he meets passer-by Becky, a surprisingly unannoying Juliette Lewis. Her natural quirkiness, which I usually can't stand, suits the role really well and provides a great contrast to the static population of Grape's home town and is serves as an eye-opener for Gilbert, changing his outlook on life.

Hallstrom shows restraint in milking out the premise. The notion of love changing a character's life is always something that is ripe for saccharine sweet hollowness, but the script and the director's treatment of it make this film's emotional exposition small and genuine. And that is in the end something that sticks a lot better than honey.

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