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.