Earlier on this week, I was trying to find a movie to watch and I somehow fell into watching a forty-five minute long biography special on Leonardo DiCaprio (it was on YouTube). I don’t know how it happened, but yeah, my attention is easily diverted. I think part of what compelled me to watch is despite the fact that he is such a recognizable and respected actor with a lot of projects under his belt, I don’t really know much about him and I’ve only seen one of his movies to completion (completion is the operative word – I’ve seen bits and pieces of a couple others). You probably don’t have to guess for very long to discover that the movie is Titanic. I really loved DiCaprio’s character in Titanic, but I mean who doesn’t? Jack, king of the world gets me every time. But anyway, after I watched the biography, I made the firm resolution to watch more of his movies. And I started with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993).
For those who have not seen/heard of this movie, its about a man named Gilbert Grape, played by Johnny Depp, who lives in a small town called Endora and acts as the head of his household after the death of his father and the disappearance of his older brother. He lives with his mother, two sisters, Amy is the elder sister and Ellen the younger, and his younger brother Arnie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Gilbert lives with the strain of having to take care of his mother, Bonnie, who has become morbidly obese after not leaving the house (or moving in general) after the death of her husband seven years prior. He is ashamed of her size, often referring to her as a “beached whale”, and he helps the town children sneak peeks at her through the window as though she were the town’s Boo Radley. In addition to his concern and shame over his mother, he is also the main caretaker of his younger brother Arnie who is mentally impaired and always making trouble with the town police (and really just trouble in general). He has a penchant for climbing the town’s water tower, which always has him receiving warnings and threats from the sheriff.
Part of issue is that despite there being no traffic through the town (besides the yearly campers that only pass through) and nothing left for the Grape family there, they are physically tied down to the house that the late Mr. Grape built because of Bonnie’s size (and emotional distress). Because of this, none of them can get the fresh beginning that they all need, and you can tell that they all resent it even though it’s a matter that gets tip-toed around all the time. The Grape family is as dysfunctional as it gets but underneath it all, the movie is about how much they love each other despite it all and their growth over the course of the film. The main focus is on Gilbert, obviously, and one of the most poignant scenes of the movie is when he finally accepts his mother the way she is in that moment and introduces her to a special person in his life without being ashamed of her.
My absolute favorite part of the movie is the relationship between Gilbert and Arnie. You can tell that it’s very hard for Gilbert to be the main caretaker of his brother who is always getting himself and the family in trouble, but you can also tell how much they love each other and how tight of a bond they have. Gilbert says again and again, “No one hurts Arnie”, and he makes sure Arnie is always protected from bullies of any sort. When Arnie climbs up the water tower and no one can get him down, Gilbert is the only one who rises to the occasion and coaxes him down with a song. I love watching their interaction because it just warms my heart to see how much Arnie relies and respects his older brother, and how much Gilbert fights so that Arnie lives the best life he can.
And while I’m on the topic of Arnie, may I just commend Leonardo DiCaprio on his stunning performance as the mentally impaired 18-yr old. I mean, just wow. He completely nailed the physicality of the role down to the smallest nervous tick. His performance was solid and completely believable. It’s hard to believe that he was only 19 years old when he took on the role. He made the movie for me, there are no words.
There is an element of romance involved (for those who like that stuff) – Gilbert becomes enamored with a camper whose van breaks down in Endora while they’re passing through. However, their relationship wasn’t that important to me. It could have been removed completely and the movie would not have been worse for the wear. The introduction of a new person in Gilbert’s life might have been needed to spark Gilbert’s self discovery but I think that could’ve been done without the romance. What’s most important is Gilbert’s relationship with his family and his personal growth and discovery as a result of a series of events that occur in the story.
So yeah, I encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to put it on their to-watch list. If anything just watch it for Leonardo DiCaprio – he really does do an excellent job. I hope I haven’t ruined it for anyone!
And catch up with me next Thursday!