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What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)


Average Rating: 7.3/10
Reviews Counted: 44
Fresh: 39
Rotten: 5

Critics Consensus: It's sentimental and somewhat predictable, but those are small complaints, given the tender atmosphere and moving performances at the heart of What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Average Rating: 6/10
Reviews Counted: 11
Fresh: 8
Rotten: 3

Critics Consensus: It's sentimental and somewhat predictable, but those are small complaints, given the tender atmosphere and moving performances at the heart of What's Eating Gilbert Grape.


Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 298,790



Movie Info

Gilbert has to care for his brother Arnie and his obese mother, which gets in the way when love walks into his life.

Directed By:
Written By:
Peter Hedges
In Theaters:
Nov 17, 2001
Paramount Pictures


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Critic Reviews for What's Eating Gilbert Grape

All Critics (44) | Top Critics (11) | Fresh (39) | Rotten (5) | DVD (21)

Even if you have a taste as I do for movies about dysfunctional families, you may be a little put off by the Grapes.

Full Review… | February 8, 2010
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Suggests that the true heroes are those people who day by day must tend to misfits, and do so with love, tenacity and a determination not to go terminally sour in the process.

Full Review… | June 19, 2009
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Hallström's finally struck a chord with the Americans, though it's much the same cocktail of whimsy and worry, the eccentric and the banal, that he's been mixing all along.

Full Review… | February 11, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Particularly impressive are the sweet, weirdly idyllic tone of Mr. Hallstrom's direction and Johnny Depp's tender, disarming performance as the long-suffering Gilbert Grape.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom and his fine cast have endowed the story with a good deal of behavioral truth and unstressed comedy.

Full Review… | February 13, 2001
Top Critic

Director Lasse Halstrom and cinematographer Sven Nykvist do their best to disguise the predictability with their own grace notes. But all the music in the world can't hide a tone this false.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Washington Post
Top Critic

A challenging look at the ups and downs of family.

Full Review… | January 1, 2011
Common Sense Media

It's endearingly loopy without degenerating into a carnival tent show.

Full Review… | June 19, 2009
TV Guide's Movie Guide

It's as fascinating to see DiCaprio before he became a bona fide star as it is to watch Depp at the very moment he cemented his reputation for coolness.

Full Review… | June 19, 2009

Quite wonderful character study, great acting turns by Depp and DiCaprio, among others.

March 8, 2008

There is not much plot to speak of, but the film instead presents a moody, elegiac atmosphere of longing and desperation that is powerfully tangible ....

Full Review… | July 10, 2007
DVD Review

Hallstrom finds the right bittersweet tone for his dysfunctional family tale (and one of Hollywood's few films about obesity), marvelously acted by Johnny Depp and particularly Leonardo DiCaprio in his second outing as a retarded adolescent.

Full Review… | June 29, 2007

Depp's sincere, subtle performance is certainly a big reason for the movie's success...

Full Review… | July 15, 2006
Reel Film Reviews

Fine performances by all, with Leonardo DiCaprio a stand out.

April 22, 2005
Nolan's Pop Culture Review

One of the best dramas ever. In a small town where nothing happens, every scene is an event as Gilbert deals with life.

July 14, 2003

With an eccentric charm that falters only in a few places, the movie makes a strong statement against conformity and the franchising of America by celebrating a cast of characters and a storyline that don't fit into a mold.

May 20, 2003
Palo Alto Weekly

Small-town drama has big moments thanks to Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis and a superb Leonardo DiCaprio.

Full Review… | November 7, 2002

An overrated film. DiCaprio gives a great performance as a mentally retarded boy. It's so good, in fact, that's it's difficult to watch.

September 27, 2002

A quirky study of altruism that It shows how love in a family context can be transformed and renewed again and again.

Full Review… | December 8, 2001
Spirituality and Practice

As a formula movie, it is a failure. As an interesting and likeable piece of offbeat filmmaking, it's a very pleasant -- if modest -- success.

Full Review… | December 4, 2001
Apollo Guide

A fantastic look at the anachronisms of small-town life and the myriad problems of coping with a go-nowhere existence.

Full Review… | November 23, 2001

The Grapes are as authentic, and as flat-out weird, as any real family I know.

Full Review… | November 12, 2001

Audience Reviews for What's Eating Gilbert Grape

The film accurately captures the feeling of small town, Middle America, and soars on its emotional story. DiCaprio is absolutely brilliant in his performance. If for nothing else, watch What's Eating Gilbert Grape for him. Ultimately, the film left me with a smile, a credit to how the director was able to draw us in and care about the characters.


Especially 19 years after the film's release, it's extremely difficult to handle Leonardo DiCaprio portraying a mentally handicapped figure***. We know him as the player of more straightforward characters in such classics as TITANIC and THE AVIATOR. However, if it weren't for his breakthrough performance in this film, we wouldn't know him for his performances as Jack Dawson or Howard Hughes. If anything, this is one of his most overlooked performances, if I may say so myself.

Despite both being dysfunctional family dramas, I can't compare EATING to something like ORDINARY PEOPLE. The film was a wonderfully intelligent and beautiful tale, but not quite woven and bound so poignantly as that unforgettable classic. Some pieces of the story seem a bit contrived, especially near the middle. On the other hand, the story is marvelously wrapped up by the ending, possibly the most emotionally paining point in the entire film. Never is this a tearjerker, though. It's a film that assesses family troubles in a hopeful light.


Alexander Diminiano

Super Reviewer

If you tried to sum up the career of Lasse Halstrom in one word, that word would be 'harmless'. Since breaking into film in the late-1970s after directing videos for ABBA, Halstrom has delivered a steady stream of consistently harmless fare: films which are sentimental, predictable, cloying but mostly charming, possessing nice colour palettes, quirky performances and a story that you will warm to, often against your will. What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, like Chocolat after it, is a reasonable if unremarkable drama whose charm eventually manages to overshadow its faults.

Based on the debut novel by American author Peter Hedges, Gilbert Grape? was the film which put both author and director on the map for American audiences. Despite only breaking even with US crowds, the film won over the awards audience, who later rewarded Halstrom with two Oscars for The Cider House Rules. And whatever flaws or excesses Halstrom's more recent efforts may have, this film shows that when he concentrates he is capable of achieving memorable drama, at least in passing.

One of the big pulls of Gilbert Grape? is its poetic visuals. Where most indie-spirited films boast washed-out colour palettes in a desperate bid to look hip and arty, this film comes across as artistically rich without feeling like it is trying to be like that. Sven Nykvist, who won Oscars for his work with Ingmar Bergman, gives us a naturalistic blend of the lavish and the worn, blending awkward dialogue scenes with wide shots of sunsets and trees reflected in water. It's like the lovechild of Nick Cassavetes and Peter Greenaway, being equally understated and arresting.

From a more narrative or thematic point of view, Gilbert Grape? succeeds in capturing the feeling of being trapped in a town which does not inspire or enthral. Gilbert describes life in Endora as "like dancing without music" - it's full of people who have been there forever, but forgotten why they came here in the first place. It's a town in which nothing ever changes: Arnie will keep trying to climb the water tower, the campers will always drive past on the same day, and Gilbert's mother will always be as big as a whale (Gilbert's phrase, not mine).

In particular, the film shows very accurately how such a town can drain young people of their soul. Gilbert is like the protagonist of 'Hotel California' by The Eagles: he can check out any time he likes, but he can never leave. He is stuck in Endora because all of his passion and imagination have been beaten out of him by the burden of his family and the boredom of his life. When Becky asks him to list things that he loves or is excited by, he finds it almost impossible.

Because so much of Gilbert Grape? is concerned with depicting tedium, it can be hard to get a handle on the story if you're not in the right frame of mind. This is not a Lynchian view of small towns, in which the banalities of dinner table conversations mask deep-rooted, psychopathic horror. There is nothing as terrifying as Frank Booth running around with a nitrous oxide canister, and nothing quite as naively beautiful as Sandy's speech about the robins.

The most tense the film ever gets is the scene when Gilbert is called into Ken Carver's office. Carver begins to talk about insurance and "accidents" in a thinly-veiled threatening manner, and we're not sure how much he knows about Gilbert's laid-back affair with his wife. This scene is quickly cut short by a phone call telling him the house is on fire, causing both men to leave both the building and the topic of discussion. This example cements Halstrom's approach with regard to depicting banality: it is not a means to an end, as in Lynch's universe, but solely an end in itself.

The film also deserves praise for its depiction of and attitude to disability. The young kids in the film might mock Gilbert's mother for being obese, but Halstrom resists making any kind of moral judgement about her, or playing her condition for laughs in the scene at the police station. And then there is Leonardo DiCaprio, who gives a startling performance as Gilbert's autistic brother Arnie - in the words of Janet Maslin, he's so good that he's difficult to watch. Although DiCaprio was Oscar-nominated, it doesn't fell like an awards-courting performance. Certainly it's not guilty of the cliché of 'Hollywood illness', in which someone can look exceedingly glamorous right up until they snuff it.

The arrival of Juliette Lewis' character brings lustre to Gilbert's life, showing him aspects of himself which he never thought existed. Because Becky is an itinerant child, she has no time for people staying in one place for its own sake, challenging Gilbert's conception of life and eventually persuading him to come with her on the road. Coming from a similar background, she demonstrates that it is possible to be happy in spite of your upbringing, and that with the right amount of self-confidence, life can be worth living wherever you are.

The schmaltzy content of that last paragraph gives you some idea of the tone of Gilbert Grape?. In its quirkier moments the film will send many running for cover, and in some cases it will take a couple of viewings to actually appreciate the film. Lewis' character is airy and free-spirited in that way which is always annoying in movies: rather than constantly uplifting us, she is frequently so wide-eyed and dorky that we find her irritating. She lacks the gripping ethereal quality of Emmanuelle Seigner or the female protagonists in a Terrence Malick film.

Gilbert Grape? is also desperately predictable. As soon as Lewis walks on screen, pushing her bicycle in her white hat and with bright red lips, you know that she and Gilbert are destined to be together. Neither the awkward romance which springs up between them or the central character development is anything we haven't seen before, even though the film handles it in a perfectly workable manner. Halstrom attempts to defy our expectations in the final act, and succeeds to some extent. But ultimately there are no surprises, as the final reveal turns out to be just a small delay.

Paradoxically for such an earnest and predictable film, the final problem with Gilbert Grape? is that it doesn't really know how to end. The film is 2 hours long and would have benefited from losing about 20 minutes, mostly from its closing section. The final act with Gilbert's mother getting upstairs and dying is drawn out: it gives Halstrom the chance to give us a beautifully-shot burning house, but there isn't anything like the catharsis that there should be in such a situation.

In the end, however, Gilbert Grape? just about cuts the mustard on the strength and charm of the performances. DiCaprio is the stand-out, but his performance wouldn't be half as endearing if it wasn't counterpointed by an understated Johnny Depp. While his performance in Chocolat was something to be swooned over, here he is more distant, awkward and mysterious. Lewis, for all her irritability, is pretty convincing as Becky, and John C. Reilly is an amiable screen presence. This film and his recent work in We Need To Talk About Kevin suggests that he is a solid dramatic actor whose work with Will Ferrell was just a brief bad patch.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is an unremarkable but perfectly decent indie drama. Like most of Halstrom's work it is quirky and sentimental in a way which will leave a portion of its audience feeling distinctly queasy. But these traits are not as marked here as there are in Dear John, and the charm and believability of the characters is enough to pull things through. To quote Radiohead, it is a case of no alarms and no surprises, which passes the time rather nicely without requiring much thought.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer


A well-acted melodrama concerning a dead-end town and how one of its inhabitants (Johnny Depp) struggles to take care of his family, notably a mentally-challenged younger brother (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a very obese mother (Darlene Cates), who hasn't left the house in seven years. Despite the number of problems this movie has, notably the lack of romantic chemistry between Depp and Juliette Lewis (who is very average in this, which is good for her, I still don't get why she was in a ton of big movies in the 90's), it somehow stays on its feet at the end. The acting is simply sensational, with Depp (his most understated turn yet - and he's phenomenal), DiCaprio (whose facial expressions are just as heartbreaking as how he talks, especially during a key scene towards the end), and Cates (who doesn't go over-the-top at all and plays her emotional cards perfectly) leading the way. The end of the film has a particularly depressing and tear-jerking scene, but it doesn't conclude on a final note such as "The Last Picture Show", the ultimate "dead-end town" film - it has more of an upbeat ending which I for one was happy it went for. Not a great film, but definitely a solid one, and an understandably fine jumpstart to the careers of two incredible actors in Depp and DiCaprio.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

What's Eating Gilbert Grape Quotes

Gilbert Grape:
Why will I take care of it?
Arnie Grape:
Gilbert Grape:
Arnie Grape:
'Cause you're Gilbert.
Gilbert Grape:
'Cause I'm Gilbert.
– Submitted by Jesse H (3 months ago)
Gilbert Grape:
Where's Arnie?
Arnie Grape:
You can't find me!
– Submitted by Will S (15 months ago)
Arnie Grape:
Mama! I want hot dogs!
– Submitted by Will S (15 months ago)
Gilbert Grape:
It's the lobsters isn't it?
– Submitted by Sandra Schuler F (24 months ago)
Arnie Grape:
I could go at any time. Any time.
– Submitted by Ian P (2 years ago)
Arnie Grape:
Tucker, she's a whale!
– Submitted by James H (2 years ago)

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