Jun 9, 2009

14th June 2009: What's Eating Gilbert Grape

What's Eating Gilbert Grape
A film by Lasse Hallstrom
Year : 1993
Country : USA
Run time:118 minutes
English with English subtitles

So who's Gilbert Grape, and what's eating him? Gilbert (Johnny Depp, in another outstanding performance from the film) is the unofficial caretaker of the Grape clan, a rural Iowa family that includes his brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), coming up on 18 years old, and the enormous Momma (Darlene Cates), a 500-pound woman who hasn't left the Grape house in nearly a decade. Taking care of Arnie and Momma is enough work for three people -- but sisters Ellen and Amy don't carry their weight, leaving Gilbert to do the heavy lifting
On the strength of DiCaprio and Depp's performances, What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a fantastic look at the anachronisms of small-town life and the myriad problems of coping with a go-nowhere existence. The dialogue is realistic to the point of putting you in the scene.
DiCaprio's remarkable performance doesn't stint on the erratic behavior, and also brings the kid alive as a human being who must be cared for and nurtured -- as hopeless a task as that might be -- thereby justifying Gilbert's devotion to him.Working with an opaque character who is almost a cipher where desires, emotions and ambitions are concerned, Depp manages to command center screen with a greatly affable, appealing characterization.
The special quality of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" is not its oddness, however, but its warmth. Johnny Depp, as Gilbert, has specialized in playing outsiders ("Edward Scissorhands," "Benny and Joon"), and here he brings a quiet, gentle sweetness that suffuses the whole film. Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Arnie, the retarded kid brother, has been nominated for an Academy Award, and deserves it.

The movie, written by Peter Hedges and based on his novel, has been directed by a Scandinavian, Lasse Hallstrom, for whom families seem to exert a special pull. Director Lasse Hallstrom and his fine cast have endowed the story with a good deal of behavioral truth and beguilingly unstressed comedy that expresses an engagingly bemused view of life.

Lasse Hallstrom

Lasse Hallstrom was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1946. His father, a dentist was also anamateur filmmaker who shot 8mm color documentaries. Lasse embarked on that life at the age of ten when he shot "a three minute documentary about Gotland Island and the ten minute thriller, 'The Ghost Thief'". While in high school, Lasse made a documentary about a group of friends who formed a rock band. Later that year (1967) the documentary was aired on Swedish television. In 1970, Lasse began to train as a television producer. In 1974, the Swedish pop group ABBA asked Lasse to make promo clips of their songs (the forerunners of music videos) that the group could send to radio stations that they couldn't personally visit.

Lasse's first feature film was "En Kille och en Tjej" (A Guy and a Gal), in 1975. ABBA: The Movie followed in 1977, but it wasn't until 1985 with the film "My Life as a Dog" did Lasse gain international attention. "My Life as a Dog" earned Lasse a nomination for Best Director and a co-nomination for Best Adapted Screen Play at the Academy Awards.

In 1991, Lasse stepped onto the American film scene as writer and director of Once Around. Two years later he directed Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" a touching story about Gilbert, a young man who has to care for his mentally challenged younger brother and his obese mother.

About his films, Lasse says, "If you look at my films, you will see some moments where I have been moderately successful. But I am always struggling to find stories that are free of stylization and portray human behavior as it unfolds. There's a coded shorthand of expression many actors use to convey feelings today, and I ask why do we have to use these codes to portray truth? Why can't we give actors the freedom to surprise us with choices that more honestly reflect real life as it plays out?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am teaching this film at present to year 10 students and we are also interested in the symbols presented in the film. These include the caravan, water tower, cicadas in the jar, even Foodland and Burger Barn.