What's Eating Gilbert Grape

7.71 h 57 min1994X-RayPG-13
Tale of a young man in Iowa who must care for his obese mother and slow-witted brother while earning a living as a stock boy in a grocery store.
Lasse Hallstrom
Johnny DeppJuliette LewisMary Steenburgen
English [CC]
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Supporting actors
Leonardo DicaprioDarlene CatesLaura HarringtonMary Kate SchellhardtKevin TigheJohn C. ReillyCrispin GloverPenelope Branning
David MatalonBertil OhlssonMeir Teper
Critically Acclaimed
PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
Content advisory
Foul languagesmoking
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4.8 out of 5 stars

5291 global ratings

  1. 88% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 7% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 3% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 1% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 1% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

DavidReviewed in the United States on March 16, 2017
5.0 out of 5 stars
Where's Arnie!?
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I can't recall a movie that was both so sad and endearing at the same time throughout the entire thing. I know the fame Leonardo DiCaprio achieved after this movie and we used to joke about how many didn't know about this role. If only the girls who go crazy over him saw him in this one. And Johnny, what can one say about the roles he's played? Who can sum it up in words?

I believe this was one of, if not the best and most important, roles they both ever played in their careers.

This was a movie named after the main character and yet, at the same time, is one of those rare glimpses into so many lives besides his. This movie wasn't just about Gilbert. He was so neatly tucked into his world of "good guy" and putting himself second to others, that we can't help but experience the world of the other characters in his life. His brother, his mother, both of his sisters, his friends, his love interests, even his boss; they're all touching us on some deeper than normal level here. This is a movie about life, death and everything in between. It brings just a hint of "Steel Magnolias" with it.

It is demonstrated for us clearly in the movie that Gilbert was a poor substitute for his father after his passing, and yet ironically succeeded where his father did not. Though he felt like it at times, Gilbert didn't give up. The biggest tragedy was supposed to be his little brother, or so we are lead to think. But it is really his mother, a brave and strong woman at moments, but not when it came to dealing with the loss of her husband and somehow moving on. Gilbert even developed a pretty neurotic way of dealing with his mother after his father's death, I suspect because he felt a very confusing mixture of anger, shame, empathy, love and admiration.

The floor underneath his mother was supposed to be built just a little stronger than it was, and it was ever just so strong to hold her weight. We learn that it was his late father that had built that house, and he just didn't do as good a job as he thought he was doing.
Gilbert was that floor his father built and left behind.

Many times there were events involving water, not to be overlooking the water tower and rain. There was also a hint about fire (signifying change). I don't think the cigarettes in the movie were meaningless, either.

The jobs and opportunities were typical for a small cow town, though it was growing and going through some change. New business was moving in and was both exciting for some and worrisome for others. This was very on point with the small town experience and many who have grown up and lived life in one can relate. From the outside, a store or small place serving food shouldn't be that big of a deal. But it impacts small town life in a big way. It means things are never going to be the same there ever again.

In some ways I can see why the movie is so underrated, and in others I think the acting, cast and writing are so good it's scary. I don't for one moment think this movie was ever written or made with blockbuster status in mind. No, it's much more meaningful than that.

It is exactly what I suspect it was meant to be. One of those things that you stumble upon in life and don't really know what to do with, so you just experience it for what it has to offer. You then want to share it with a world that may or may not be ready for it, ultimately locking it away in your heart as something to bring you some emotion when alone and thinking stumbles upon it once again.
124 people found this helpful
Rodney LewisReviewed in the United States on October 8, 2018
4.0 out of 5 stars
Unquestionably Part of American Film Canon
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DiCaprio earned his first Academy Award portraying Arnie Grape, the cognitively impaired little brother of the titular Gilbert, played by Johnny Depp. The film is more vignette than involved story, portraying the life of the Grape family, especially that of Gilbert Grape, in the the week preceding Arnie's 18th birthday. It is also incidentally about life in small town, rural America, something that folks like me who have spent their adult lives in an urban bubble, don't see much of anymore.

Depp has been placed by fate in the male leadership role of his family as his father is deceased and his mother's lack of agency as a parent or much else has manifested itself in debilitating obesity. Depp's Gilbert must be the sole caregiver to his mentally disabled brother and help his sisters tend to their mother, which includes carrying the dinner table to her location for meals. I find the work of Depp and the other actors to be quite mediocre but in their defense I don't think they were given much to work with.

However, it is no fluke that DiCaprio earned that Academy Award fair and square. Any kidding aside about how perhaps playing someone who suffers from mental retardation isn't too far of a stretch, DiCaprio's performance was wonderfully convincing and DiCaprio was very successful at making Arnie endearing. His performance makes me glad I finally, after almost 25 years, saw this movie.
34 people found this helpful
Matthew D'SouzaReviewed in the United States on April 21, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
A Touching Piece of Americana
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A touching piece of Americana.

Lasse Hallstrom's coming of age drama What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) is an enduring classic of Americana as it depicts small town living Iowa. Hallstrom shows the absolute degradation of a young man forced to take care of his mentally challenged brother, morbidly obese mother, desperate unhappy married girlfriend, all while working a dead end job in a quiet little town he despises. What's Eating Gilbert Grape feels so real as every character is like someone you know in real life. They are so ordinary country people. This film is a testament to the average American. It really is a shimmering example of rural America.

Peter Hedges' script is directly adapted from his novel of the same name. He creates a warm environment of brotherly love, empathetic understanding, economic stress, familial struggles, and familial love. His words all ring as if these characters might actually speak. The grounded realism of What's Eating Gilbert Grape enables it to persevere as a timeless film.

Hallstrom's direction allows for his actors to breath in an open scene full of life's little growing pains. His shots look so natural and sympathetic to his struggling characters. There is no judgement, only a realism that is deeply affecting. Sven Nykvist's cinematography harks back to his glory days as Ingmar Bergman's cinematographer. The outside wide shots make Iowa look serene, if desolate. Nykvist's cinematic look brings you to the heart of characters and their emotions indoors, while his shots look so profoundly ponderous outdoors. He captures a certain contemplative look in his close-ups and a sense of these people dreaming of something more than a small town life. Nykvist held dreams in his hands with his camera, while Hallstrom breathed life and compassion for unhappy people with his direction.

Alan Parker and Bjorn Isfalt's score is filled with mesmerizing piano melodies that soar across Hallstrom's skies and landscapes. The score to What's Eating Gilbert Grape creates an enchanting musical aura of tender affinity for these simple regular characters trying to get by in life.

Johnny Depp is phenomenal as Gilbert Grape. His eyes and face convey a deeper sadness and discontent with his life underneath his kindly actions. Depp portrays one of cinema's kindest heroes. His selfless actions and thoughts make you relate and care about Gilbert. Depp plays him so sincerely that Gilbert feels like you are watching a friend rather than a stranger.

Likewise, Leonardo DiCaprio is outstanding as the young brother to Gilbert Grape named Arnie Grape. DiCaprio portrays Arnie with a keen optimism and a debilitating mentally challenging condition. DiCaprio looks like he is having so much fun alongside Johnny Depp that you cannot help but like his character. DiCaprio delivers a convincing and an engaging performance despite his young age. DiCaprio was destined to be a great actor from the start.

Juliette Lewis gives one of her most likable and endearing roles as Gilbert Grape's girlfriend and Depp's love interest Becky. Her pixie haircut, energetic disposition, and sweet persona make Becky a delightful character to watch. She exhibits a dreamy quality that gives Becky an alluring mystique and blunt confidence. She is so fun and interesting opposite Depp as his love interest and foil. Their chemistry is apparent and believable. I completely fell for Lewis in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

I must mention Darlene Cates as Gilbert's mother Bonnie Grape. Her brave portrayal of a woman suffering from morbid obesity is simultaneously revolting and heartbreaking. She makes you despise how lazy and not nurturing Bonnie is, then you sympathize with her once she's mocked and apologetic towards Gilbert. Cates' notable speech to Depp in her bed is so moving and captivating that Cates could never top this performance as What's Eating Gilbert Grape is sadly her only film role essentially. At least she is immortalized affectionately forever within What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

On the other hand, Mary Steenburgen is so hilarious as the naughty desperate housewife Betty Carver. Her performance is gripping as a miserably unhappy woman longing for Gilbert's love. Her forward flirtations and desperate attention seeking is entertaining as well as sorrow laden. Steenburgen is amazing in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Lastly, What's Eating Gilbert Grape features several perfect supporting roles. Laura Harrington is so nice and motherly as the Amy Grape, who must take care of the house since her mother will not. Mary Kate Schellhardt is so funny as the mean teenage sister Ellen Grape. Kevin Tighe is perfectly pathetic as the loser husband Ken Carver, who has been cuckolded by Gilbert Grape sleeping with his wife Betty. Crispin Glover is creepy and hilarious as the good humored mortician friend to Gilbert named Bobby McBurney. Finally, John C. Reilly is so nice as the handy electrician and contractor friend to Gilbert named Tucker Van Dyke. These actors and actresses all contribute to What's Eating Gilbert Grape's realistic vibe.

In all, What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a triumph of beautiful direction and tender sentiment with excellent acting set to lovely music.
20 people found this helpful
Dope AFReviewed in the United States on August 14, 2019
4.0 out of 5 stars
TL;DR Leonardo Got Robbed
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TL;DR (Too, Long; Didn't Read) Version

Do you know what's eating Gilbert Grapes? The fact that Leonardo did not win an Academy Award for his performance as Arnie.

The good
- Leo gave a performance of a lifetime. His mannerisms, behaviors, and movements gave his character a believable quality.
- Johnny Depp's character, Gilbert, was the most developed throughout the movie and he did a good job in his performance.
- The cinematography and the scenery really captured the essence of the decade.
- The plot, although at times felt like it was going nowhere, had a realness quality. You can connect to the challenges that the family encounters as they interact with each other and the townspeople.

The bad
- Other than Leo and Johnny Depp, the other supporting characters felt like props. Did anyone remember John C. Reiley in this movie? No.
- The pacing of the story felt slow towards the end.
- Some of the side stories were underdeveloped and honestly not needed to tell the main story.
- The ending felt too open-ended.

Final Verdict: A feel-good movie that tells a story of the relationship between two brothers and the dysfunctional family that they live in as they grow up in a small town. If you're a fan of Leo then we highly recommend watching this movie.

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14 people found this helpful
dcitrowReviewed in the United States on September 7, 2017
5.0 out of 5 stars
DiCaprio is Stellar!
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This movie still holds up after all these years. Leonardo DiCaprio is just fascinating to watch, especially after seeing him in later roles when he is much older. This movie and his role in 'This Boy's Life' should have won him Academy Awards at the young age of 18/19 (the movies were made back-to-back.) Depp is good. There's really nothing to break this movie down in any way. As far as I can say, this is a perfectly made, perfectly acted, perfectly edited and excellent movie choice that you'll watch more than once!
40 people found this helpful
KattReviewed in the United States on October 28, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
What this movie!!
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How have I never seen this movie before? The only thing I can think of is that the title is a bit off-putting but wow, oh wow this movie was incredible. The characters? Arni? Oh my goodness. Leo Leo Leo. Seriously, by the end of the movie, I truly believed that he was Arni and that he did indeed have mental challenges. Why didn't he win an Oscar??? And Gilbert? Oh my. What amazed me about this movie is that Johnny really didn't have very many lines. His character was quiet. Gilbert didn't need words because his actions spoke everything for him. The way he cared for and loved Arni? I teared up more than once because I felt it. That's what a movie should do is move you in some way or another.

I absolutely loved Gilbert's character. He knew his place. He knew that he was needed and he knew what he needed to do to take care of his family. He wasn't resentful. He wasn't resigned that this was his life and he had to deal with it. He didn't hate where he was. He did the best he could and he did it selflessly.

The family dynamic in this story was unlike any that I've ever seen before. Their struggles were real. And I felt like they captured small town living to a T. I also liked the subtle nuances. Like why Gilbert didn't want to go in the basement. It was "there" and you felt it but it wasn't thrown in your face. It wasn't overdone.

This movie is going to stick with me for awhile and I love that. That's good storytelling. And I plan on watching this again and again.
15 people found this helpful
Karen J. Reviewed in the United States on August 5, 2019
3.0 out of 5 stars
Good acting but overall boring
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I was completely repulsed by Arnie's behavior and how everyone just tolerated it. At almost an adult he was a serious danger not only to himself but others who had to risk their own lives to continually rescue him. He should have been in some kind of professional care. In real life someone like that most likely would never have even survived until their eighteenth birthday! Having said that, DiCaprio and Depp's acting was extraordinary, although the story line was boring. And the disgusting mother always coddling g Arnie. Why in the world is Gilbert always feeling guilty and apologizing when he is the one who holds everything together for the mother who is useless? I wonder if she would have gotten herself out of the house to bail out any of her other children. And for her to say that Arnie is a "helpless boy" is like saying Lenny in "Of Mice and Men" is helpless! He's a grown man, capable of hurting.
4 people found this helpful
StacyLReviewed in the United States on July 3, 2022
5.0 out of 5 stars
Another favorite
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Not a typical Johnny Depp movie like you would normally associate him with but very heart warming. My son was disabled and I have spent the last 3 years caring for a boy a lot like the character DiCaprio played so it touched a special place in my heart.
3 people found this helpful
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