The usual Christmas TV season sees a sparse selection of films that never fails to include in its merry midst ‘Elf’, ‘Home Alone’ and now ‘Frozen’ (a film I have avoided due to its ridiculous hype and faintly sinister animated snowman). This lack of viewing choice led to my brother delving in to the dark depths of our DVD cupboard.
After much sifting and discarding, and a minor injury caused by a rogue ‘X-Men’ DVD, he unearthed ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’.
Described as ‘a feel-good movie that you could cut your fingers on, if you didn’t handle with care’, this film, directed by Lasse Hollstrom, was one of the best I have ever seen.
The story takes place in the bleak town of Endora, Iowa, and focuses on Gilbert, played by the young Johnny Depp, who becomes the ‘man of the house’ after his father hangs himself in the basement, and carer for his morbidly obese mother (described by Gilbert as a ‘beached-whale’). On top of this, he must cope with two incessantly squabbling sisters and an autistic younger brother, Arnie, whilst maintaining a scandalous sexual relationship with a married woman. Gilbert’s life is made only worse by the arrival of ‘Foodland’ on the outskirts of town, but is brightened by the arrival of Becky (Juliette Lewis), who fills him with hope and afternoon refreshment of watermelon.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Arnie is so startlingly convincing that it leaves you in every doubt that the actor himself is not mentally-handicapped, and in no doubt as to why the 19 year old picked up his first Oscar.
Brilliantly enjoyable scenes include Gilbert tracing his mother’s movements around the house by the torrents of plaster that fall from the ceiling with each laboured step, whilst the arrival of ‘Burger Barn’ sees young Arnie reach a state of seeded-bun euphoria.
This fast became one of my favourite films and I urge you to watch it as well, if only to see DiCaprio sever the head of a grasshopper with a mailbox lid.