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What Eating Gulbert Grape

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What's Eating Gilbert Grape" is a wonderfully rambling film that relies wholly on its characters to see it through to the end. There's no elaborate plot structure, and the only central conflict is general angst and unrest. Therefore, it is up to the main characters of the small town of Endora, Iowa to create a meaningful existence on-screen.

The film feels like Peter Bogdonavich's "The Last Picture Show," in the town's backward sleepiness, and the central character's unresolved restlessness. It creates a real sense of life, which everybody knows is often plodding and mundane, even when it feels like the world is about to strangle you.

Which is exactly how Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) feels. In his mid-twenties and saddled with responsibility for his family, Gilbert is trapped in the dying, small town world of Endora, a place he compares to dancing without music. He works at the local grocery store and frequently indulges in an affair with the local insurance salesman's wife (Mary Steenburgen), but he wants more. Of course, he could get in his old truck and leave at any time, but that would mean dropping the responsibilities left to him when his father committed suicide seventeen years earlier. He could get away, but that would be dishonorable.

Among his responsibilities, first and foremost is his mother (Darlene Cates). Once the most beautiful girl in the region, she is now a horribly obese woman who hasn't left the house in seven years. Then there's his seventeen-year-old retarded brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who must be constantly watched because he has a penchant for climbing the local water tower. Gilbert gets no help from his fourteen-year-old sister Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt), who spends all her time painting her nails and getting a sun tan. His older sister Amy (Laura Harrington) helps, but her past includes accidentally burning down the local school cafeteria. Then there's the Gilbert residence, an huge, old ramshackle house that is constantly threatening to collapse, especially under the weight of Mama.

Gilbert sees a glimmer of hope in the form of Becky (Juliette Lewis) and her grandmother, whose trailer home breaks down while passing through Endora. Becky represents life outside of Endora free of responsilbities -- precisely the kind of life Gilbert has never known. The conflict of the film is whether Gilbert can, in good faith, leave his family behind to save his own sanity.

"What's Eating Gilbert Grape" was helmed by Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom, who made a sweet coming-of-age film in 1985 called "My Life as a Dog." In "Gilbert Grape" he shows the same keen awareness of character and internal conflict that made his earlier films come alive. "Gilbert Grape" was based on a novel by Peter Hedge who also wrote the screenplay, which considerably cuts down on



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