What's Eating Gilbert Grape

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What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Whats eating gilbert grape poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Produced by David Matalon
Bertil Ohlsson
Meir Teper
Written by Peter Hedges
Starring Johnny Depp
Juliette Lewis
Mary Steenburgen
Leonardo DiCaprio
John C. Reilly
Darlene Cates
Music by Alan Parker
Björn Isfält
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Edited by Andrew Mondshein
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (United States)
J&M Entertainment (International)
Release dates
  • December 17, 1993 (1993-12-17)
Running time 118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $11 million (est)[1]
Box office $10,032,765[2]

What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a 1993 American drama film directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Darlene Cates, 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.


In the small town of Endora, Iowa, Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is busy caring for his mentally handicapped younger 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 in the basement of their house on October 13, 1978. She hasn't left the house in 7 years, and is always found sitting on the sofa watching television.

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 a secret affair with a housewife, Betty (Mary Steenburgen), while her busy husband Ken (Kevin Tighe) is intent on selling Gilbert insurance for his family. Gilbert misinterprets Ken's enthusiasm as a subtle way of hinting he knows about Gilbert's affair with Betty. A new Food Land supermarket has opened on the nearby interstate highway, threatening the small Lamson's Grocery store where Gilbert works, as well as other small businesses in Endora. The 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 the truck towing their trailer breaks down. Gilbert's unusual life circumstances threaten to get in the way of a budding romance. In order to spend time with Becky watching the sunset, 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 cold water. As a result, Arnie refuses to go near water, causing him to become extremely dirty.

Betty's affair with Gilbert ends after she attempts to have sex with him while he is on the phone with her husband. While Gilbert is meeting with Ken to discuss insurance, Betty calls and asks that Ken come immediately. Gilbert takes Ken back home to find the house full of smoke and Betty sitting outside. The smoke of a blunt is revealed to be the result of Betty burning a batch of cookies. Ken goes inside to get his sons out and becomes distraught as he tries to cheer them up. That night he dies after suffering a cardiac arrest and landing face down in his sons' wading pool, drowning. After the funeral, Betty leaves Endora with her sons in search of a new life.

Becky bonds with Gilbert and Arnie, helping Gilbert to reflect on his feelings. They become deeply involved in conversation until Gilbert realizes that Arnie is missing and has climbed to the top of the water tower. Arnie is arrested, compelling Bonnie to leave the house for the first time in seven years to demand his release. Her appearance draws a crowd outside the Talford County courthouse.

The night before his birthday, Gilbert catches Arnie eating the cake for the next day, and as punishment forcibly attempts to bathe him. Arnie resists, and Gilbert loses his temper and strikes him. Appalled at himself and angry at his life in general, Gilbert drives away, leaving Endora, while Arnie leaves the house to find Becky, who cares for him in the meantime and gets him to go swimming in the lake, thus overcoming his fear of water. Later, Amy and Ellen come to take Arnie home, and Gilbert, having returned, 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 their mother, 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 everything from the house but their mother's body, and Gilbert sets the house on fire.

One year later, Gilbert and Arnie are looking out again to watch the trailers pass. Gilbert explains through voice-over that Amy has gotten a job offer managing a bakery in Des Moines and Ellen can't wait 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.


Filming Locations[edit]

Manor, Texas; Lockhart, Texas; Elgin, Texas; Austin, Texas; Denton, Texas[3] Pflugerville, Texas;[4]


The film had a limited release on December 17, 1993 and wide release on March 4, 1994.[5] The wide release garnered $2,104,938 on first weekend. Total domestic gross for the film was $10,032,765.[6]

Critical reception and awards[edit]

The film received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film was given an 89% "Certified Fresh" rating.[7] 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."[8] 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.[9] 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."[10] Washington Post's Desson Howe thought the film was an earnest but highly predictable effort.[11] 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".[12] 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.[12]

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.


  1. ^ "What's Eating Gilbert Grape - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved 2011-07-28. 
  2. ^ "What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-07-23. 
  3. ^ "What's Eating Gilbert Grape". IMDb. 
  4. ^ http://www.pflugervilletx.gov/index.aspx?nid=1495
  5. ^ "What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  6. ^ "What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  7. ^ "What's Eating Gilbert Grape Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet (1993-12-17). "Movie Review: What's Eating Gilbert Grape". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (1994-03-04). "What's Eating Gilbert Grape". rogerebert.com. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  10. ^ McCarthy, Todd (1993-12-06). "What's Eating Gilbert Grape Review". Variety. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  11. ^ Howe, Desson (1994-03-04). "What’s Eating Gilbert Grape". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  12. ^ a b Cameron-Wilson, James; Speed, F. Maurice (1994). Film Review 1994-5. Great Britain: Virgin Books. p. 148. ISBN 0-86369-842-5{{inconsistent citations}} 

External links[edit]