I hated “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” Oh, it’s not all bad. It’s a well-made movie. Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as mentally challenged Arnie Grape, the kid brother to Johnny Depp’s Gilbert. But I hated it nonetheless.
Depp plays Gilbert, a small-town kid forced to look after his family after his father hanged himself, with warmth and depth.
But I found the film mercilessly depressing. The small-town grocery where Gilbert works is being run into the ground by the bigger, more impressive Foodland on the edge of town — a clear metaphor for the encroachment of Wal-Mart on smalltown America.
Gilbert’s mother, Bonnie, is morbidly obese and housebound since her husband’s suicide. Her family dotes on her, but Gilbert also mocks her. He uses all the classics. “Beached whale” is used a couple of times, I think. He lets the neighborhood kids, curious to see the fat woman like she was a freakshow display, look through the windows of their rundown farmhouse.
I’m morbidly obese and I guess I’m more sensitive about it than I thought. I found it all rather cruel, though Darlene Cates, who played Bonnie, is very strong in her performance.
My big gripe is the ending. Bonnie climbs the stairs to go to bed for the first time in years. She has a heart attack and dies. Mentally challenged Arnie discovers her. At first he thinks his mom is playing possum. But then he slowly realizes she is dead.
That’s some good acting by DiCaprio, who would go on to be a master of his trade.
But what happens next is an absurdity. Bonnie is fat. They say she’s 500 pounds. The local sheriff says he’ll have to get some extra men to get her out of the upstairs of the house. That seems reasonable.
Somehow Gilbert decides they’ll need a crane. And then all the town will show up to laugh at her. This is, of course, something he actively participated in earlier in the film. But now his mother is dead and his morality is resurrected. Or something.
The logical solution, of course, is to burn the house down. Which they do.
It’s a metaphor for starting over, getting rid of past baggage. I get it.
It’s also painfully stupid.
Nobody thought about a tarp, maybe some pulleys and rope to slide Mom’s body down the stairs. No. The only way was to turn the house into a Viking funeral pyre. Why not?
What the hell.
This film brings to end a long running joke between myself and my friend Andrew. While we were both unemployed back in 2008, we would often walk down to a neighborhood video store to pick out films to watch.
One of us would always say to the other, “Hey, I hear ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ is good?” This struck as very funny. We may have been drinking beforehand.
Every visit to the store, which is long closed, one of us loudly ask this question about “Gilbert Grape” and suggest we’d heard it was good. Neither of us had seen the film until now.
Sadly, Andrew, I am here to report that, no, it actually isn’t good.