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Paramount Studios presents
What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

Gilbert: Did you ever seen a beached whale on television? That's her. That's my mom.
Becky: What about your dad?
Gilbert: Some other day. Some other day.

- Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: November 26, 2001

Stars: Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis
Other Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mary Steenburgen, John C. Reilly, Darlene Cates, Crispin Glover
Director: Lasse Hallstrom

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for elements of mature subject matter
Run Time: 01h:57m:30s
Release Date: November 27, 2001
UPC: 097363295549
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AA-B+ D-

DVD Review

Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is trapped in the small town of Endora, Iowa: trapped by his obligations to his mentally-impaired younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio); by his mindless job as a stock boy at the local grocer; by his awkward affair with a local mother (Mary Steenburgen), and most of all, by his mother, a once-beautiful woman who is likewise trapped—she weighs 500 pounds, and hasn't left the house in seven years.

Depp has always gravitated towards oddball characters (he's a favorite of director Tim Burton, an oddball in his own right), and Gilbert is similarly alienated from his surroundings. He's fiercely protective of Arnie, but resents his role, and tires of constantly bailing him out of trouble (Arnie has a tendency to climb the town water-tower when no one is looking). Of course, he's not alone—Endora is populated with a variety of small-town weirdos. Gilbert's best friends, Tucker (John C. Reilly) and Bobby (the always slightly-off Crispin Glover), have their own peculiarities. Tucker's goal in life is to become manager at the newly opened Burger Barn, and Bobby is an under-worked undertaker always on the lookout for a new client ("I haven't seen your mother in a while, how's she doing?" he asks a neighbor, hopefully). But Gilbert is the only one who seems unfulfilled with life.

Everything changes, as things often do, when a stranger rolls into town. This time, it is Becky (Lewis), a young woman as idealistic as Gilbert is cynical, who begins a timid romance with the dissatisfied young man. She opens his eyes to the world around him, disrupts a routine that might have gone on for years. It's not a monumental change, or an easy solution to Gilbert's problems. But she sees the simple beauty of Gilbert's life, and of his brother Arnie. Gilbert, so long asleep, finally awakens to meet his present and contemplate a future he didn't think he had.

Johnny Depp is a fine young actor, and he's perfect for Gilbert; he hits just the right notes of gentleness and angst. Leonardo DiCaprio, in a performance that deserved to earn him the fame that Titanic eventually did, gives the most convincing performance as a mentally-impaired person since Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. He never goes for the obvious, loveable, clichéd "dunce with a heart of gold." His Arnie is equally endearing and exasperating, and it's clear why Gilbert is so devoted to him (and why he drives everyone so crazy). The real standout, though, is newcomer Darlene Cates as Gilbert's mom. She manages to inject humanity into a role that could've been one-note. Yes, she's fat, but she's also human, more than a simple freak show, and once again we see both why she is so difficult for Gilbert to live with and why he sticks around.

Lasse Hallstrom has gained notoriety is recent years for his annual Miramax best-picture bid (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), and his craft is on display in this picture as well. He balances the routine, the dramatic, and the bleakly comic without faltering. Peter Hedges, adapting from his own novel, has crafted an elegant slice-of-life screenplay, one without a traditional, forced narrative. At the end, nothing has changed and everything has, and we've done little more than spend a few hours getting to know a unique cast of characters.

Less a standard, plot-driven film, and more a series of poignant vignettes on the allure and frustration of small town life, What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a touching character piece that deserves to be seen.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Paramount always does nice work on catalog titles. Even if you don't get a lot of extras, the video looks good. Gilbert features excellent use of color, and the look transfers well to DVD, with rich, saturated earth tones. Black level is excellent, though shadow detail is a bit weaker than I'd like in a few scenes. Digital artifacting and edge enhancement are non-existent. Film grain is likewise not a problem. The print used was in excellent condition, with only a few minor scratches noticeable.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Gilbert has been granted an unnecessary 5.1 remix, but the results are quite nice. This is a dialogue driven film, and thus, the front soundstage handles most of the audio. Dialogue is always clear and well mixed. The front soundstage is wide enough, as things never sound constricted, and it handles what few sound effects there are, and with good directionality. The score makes good use of the front mains, and does creep into the surrounds a bit as well. The only scene with really good use of the surrounds is near the climax of the film, where they lend nicely to the atmosphere.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The sole extra is the trailer. Usually Hallstrom is very involved with the DVDs of his films, so this is a bit disappointing. Chaptering is inadequate, with some running nearly 20 minutes, and some, less than two.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

What's Eating Gilbert Grape is an unusual film, especially in Hollywood terms. There's no formulaic plot—we simply spend some time getting to know some interesting and eccentric characters. Equal turns humorous and moving, it has gained the success on video that it deserved in the theaters. Paramount has put together a typically strong catalogue release, and the $24.99 price tag represents a welcome drop in price from the studio.


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