What's Eating Gilbert Grape

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.



Reviews Counted: 47

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Average Rating: 3.7/5

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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.

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Johnny Depp
as Gilbert Grape
Leonardo DiCaprio
as Arnie Grape
Mary Steenburgen
as Betty Carver
Kevin Tighe
as Mr. Carver
John C. Reilly
as Tucker Van Dyke
Crispin Glover
as Bobby McBurney
Penelope Branning
as Becky's Grandma
Tim Green
as Mr. Lamson
Susan Loughran
as Mrs. Lamson
Mark Jordan
as Todd Carver
Libby Villari
as Waitress
Cameron Finley
as Doug Carver
Joe Stevens
as Burger Barn manager
Brady Coleman
as Sheriff Farrel
Tim Simek
as Deputy
Mona Lee Fultz
as Bakery Worker
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News & Interviews for What's Eating Gilbert Grape

Critic Reviews for What's Eating Gilbert Grape

All Critics (47) | Top Critics (11)

  • Despite Depp's tender melancholy, the performers who stay with you are those who dare to crack the surface of their characters' alienation.

    Nov 7, 2018 | Rating: B- | Full Review…
  • Depp is subtly winning as a man-child oblivious to his own pent-up rage. But the performance that will take your breath away is DiCaprio's.

    Mar 13, 2015 | Full Review…

    David Ansen

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

    Feb 8, 2010 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Jun 19, 2009 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Feb 11, 2006 | Full Review…
    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.

    May 20, 2003

Audience Reviews for What's Eating Gilbert Grape

Interesting and moving film. This was my first Leo DeCaprio film, and I HONESTLY believed that he was a mentally disabled boy they cast in this film. When I snapped that he wasn't, I felt like an ass. But that's how good he was even as a kid.

Cindy I
Cindy I

Super Reviewer

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.

Matthew Samuel Mirliani
Matthew Samuel Mirliani

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

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