What's Eating Gilbert Grape

What's Eating Gilbert Grape Information

What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a 1993 drama film directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio. Peter Hedges wrote the screenplay, adapted from his 1991 novel of the same name. It was filmed in the Texas cities of Manor, Elgin, and Lockhart.


The film starts in the small town of Endora, Iowa. Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is busy caring for his mentally challenged brother, Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), as they wait for the many tourists' trailers to pass through town during their yearly camp ritual at a nearby recreational area. His mother, Bonnie (Darlene Cates) is morbidly obese after years of depression following her husband's suicide by hanging himself. She hasn't left the house in years, and is always found sitting on the sofa watching television. With Bonnie unable to care for them by herself, Gilbert has taken responsibility for repairing their shanty of a farmhouse while looking after Arnie, who has a habit of climbing up the town water tower if left unsupervised for too long. All the while his older sister Amy (Laura Harrington) and younger sister Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt) slave away in the kitchen. The relationship between the brothers is one of care and protection.

Gilbert has taken on a secret love affair with a housewife, Betty (Mary Steenburgen), whilst her busy husband Ken (Kevin Tighe), is fully intent on selling Gilbert insurance for his family. However, throughout the film Gilbert confused his enthusiasm as his subtle way of hinting he knew about Gilbert's affair with Betty. A new chain supermarket has opened, threatening the small Lamson's Grocery store where Gilbert works, as well as threatening all the other small-time businesses in Endora. The chain supermarket stocks all kinds of goods, rendering many of the local shops redundant.

While the family prepares for Arnie's upcoming 18th birthday party, a young woman named Becky (Juliette Lewis) and her grandmother are stuck in town when their truck towing their trailer breaks down. Gilbert's unusual life circumstances threaten to get in the way of their budding romance. In order to spend time with Becky watching the sun set, Gilbert leaves Arnie alone in the bathtub by himself, believing he is now old enough to get out on his own. He returns home late and wakes up the following morning to find Arnie still in the bath, shivering in the now-cold water. He puts a towel around him but Gilbert gets the blame for leaving him.

Gilbert's guilt is compounded by his family's anger. As a result Arnie refuses to get near water, including the pond by Becky's trailer, and his fear causes him to become extremely dirty, adding to the many problems Gilbert faces. Betty's affair with Gilbert ends when she becomes possessive of him and tries to have sex with him while he's on the phone with her husband, as he goes to see him, Betty believes that he's going to see Becky, she warns him not to go but he leaves and Betty is left distraught and ignores the oven timer that has gone off. As Gilbert is talking to Ken, Betty calls and wants Ken to come back home immediately, Gilbert takes Ken back home to find smoke coming out of his house and Betty sitting on the steps. Ken goes inside to get his sons out and the smoke is from the cookies that she forgot to take out of the oven. Betty talks with Gilbert and says that she could've had anyone but she chose him. As Gilbert leaves, Ken loses it as he tries to cheer his sons up. That night, Ken drowns after suffering a cardiac arrest and landing face down in his sons' wading pool. Many of the townspeople believe Betty killed her husband, despite the insistence of Gilbert's friend, Bobby McBurney (Crispin Glover), one of the town coroners, who examined him. Besides Bobby, Gilbert is the only one who believed Betty didn't commit murder. She eventually leaves town in search of a new life.

Becky bonds with Gilbert and Arnie and helps Gilbert reflect on his feelings. They become deeply involved in conversation until Gilbert realizes that Arnie is missing. He has returned to the water tower he is forever trying to climb and this time has succeeded at getting to the top. Arnie is arrested, compelling Bonnie, who has not left the house in seven years, to rush to the police station to demand his release, causing her appearance to be ridiculed by the townspeople.

The day before Arnie's birthday, Gilbert tries to get him to take a bath so he can be clean for tomorrow, as Gilbert is chasing Arnie through the house he accidentally bumps into Amy who drops his cake on the floor. Gilbert then goes to the new supermarket to pick up a cake, as he is leaving, his boss sees him exit. When he returns home, Arnie wonders what is in a big box that Gilbert had left in the fridge. He finds the birthday cake and gets caught eating it, which Gilbert told him not to touch. Gilbert orders Arnie to take a bath as punishment, and Arnie resists when Gilbert tries to force him. Losing his temper, Gilbert strikes Arnie hard making him bleed. Appalled at himself and angry at his life in general, Gilbert drives away, leaving Endora. Arnie leaves the house to find Becky, who takes care of him. Gilbert returns to town and sees Arnie with Becky, who is able to get him to enter the lake. Arnie falls from a branch in a tree and goes in the lake, thus helping him overcome his fear of water. After Amy and Ellen come to Becky's and take Arnie home, Gilbert approaches Becky and the two talk about his own frustration and the reality of his father's death. The next day he returns home during Arnie's birthday party to apologize.

Following Arnie's eighteenth birthday and meeting Becky for the first time, Bonnie climbs the stairs to her bedroom for the first time in years. That evening she passes away in her bed. Arnie tries to wake her, thinking that she is just playing. He soon realizes what has happened, runs out of the house and begins to hurt himself. As his sisters try to stop him, they realize that Bonnie has died. Jerry, the local sheriff, and his deputies tell the Grape family that they would need more men to get Bonnie's heavy corpse out of the house. After the police leave, Gilbert and his sisters soon cry over losing her. The siblings realize that her removal would draw a gawking crowd and want to protect their mother from being a spectacle. They empty the house except for their mother's body. Then Gilbert sets the house on fire, not willing to see a crane remove her and for the inevitable ridicule to ensue.

One year later, Gilbert and Arnie are looking out again to watch the trailers pass. Through voice over, Gilbert tells of Amy getting a job offer to manage a bakery in Des Moines, and Ellen being thrilled to switch schools. Arnie chases the vehicles, arms flailing, excited to see Becky again. Along with Becky and her grandma, Gilbert and Arnie hit the road.



The film had a limited release on December 17, 1993 and wide release on March 4, 1994. The wide release garnered $2,104,938 on first weekend. Total domestic gross for the film was $10,032,765.

Critical reception and awards

The film received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film was given a 89% "Certified Fresh" rating. New York Times film critic Janet Maslin praised DiCaprio's performance, writing "the film's real show-stopping turn comes from Mr. DiCaprio, who makes Arnie's many tics so startling and vivid that at first he is difficult to watch.... The performance has a sharp, desperate intensity from beginning to end." Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times described it as "... one of the most enchanting films of the year" and said that DiCaprio deserved to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for which he was nominated. Todd McCarthy of Variety found the film a "bemused view on life" and remarked that "Depp manages to command center screen with a greatly affable, appealing characterization." Washington Post's Desson Howe thought the film was an earnest but highly predictable effort. Film Review praised Leonardo DiCaprio as the mentally handicapped brother, calling it "a performance of astonishing innocence and spontaneity", bringing "a touching credibility to a very difficult part". Film Review quoted the actor:

"I had to really research and get into the mind of somebody with a disability like that. So I spent a few days at a home for mentally retarded teens. We just talked and I watched their mannerisms. People have these expectations that mentally retarded children are really crazy, but it's not so. It's refreshing to see them because everything's so new to them."
In addition to DiCaprio's first Academy Award nomination in this film, he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. He also won the Best Supporting Actor Award from the National Board of Review. The film was nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.

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