"Whatever is eating at him, itís feeding us a mighty fine film."
Think of somewhere youíve always wanted to visit. If you had the chance to go there, would you want to rush through everything and not be able to appreciate this amazing place (it better be amazingÖ you picked it!)? Thatís how one should approach the film Whatís Eating Gilbert Grape.Except that Endora, Iowa is a place few would want to visit. Bear with me, because Iowa or not, itís worth the trip. Whatís Eating Gilbert Grape is aboutÖ well, Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp), a young man trying to take care of his retarded brother (Leonardo DiCaprio) and severely obese mother. Itís also about small towns and the strange characters that inhabit them. And when you look really closely, the film is about loyalties and what forces people to choose between their loyalties.
The storytelling has a very relaxed feel to it. Director Lasse Hallstrom, a native Swede, is known for his meditative looks into rural relationships. What especially works in his films is the lack of strictly defined antagonists. The characters are rarely good or bad. Itís their actions coupled with outside forces that provide the opposition. This way we understand why the characters do what they do.
Hallstromís talent really lays in his ability to makes us look at a similar situation with first comic detachment and then a touch of sadness. The best example is how the audience might snicker at how Gilbertís mom weighs down one side of the family car. But after a confrontation in town, the way the car sits on the road becomes much less humorous.The film is famous for Leonardo DiCaprioís breakout role but there are great performances by John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover and Mary Steenburgen as well. Some may not enjoy the film due to its slow pacing. But those who can see past that will be rewarded with a rich, funny and often moving look at small town life and the loyalties involved in it.