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What's Eating Gilbert Grape

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What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLasse Hallström
Screenplay byPeter Hedges
Based onWhat's Eating Gilbert Grape
by Peter Hedges
Produced by
CinematographySven Nykvist
Edited byAndrew Mondshein
Music byAlan Parker
Björn Isfält
Matalon Teper Ohlsson
Distributed by
Release date
  • December 17, 1993 (1993-12-17)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$11 million[2]
Box office$10 million (US)[3]

What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a 1993 American coming-of-age comedy-drama film directed by Lasse Hallström, and starring Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Mary Steenburgen, Leonardo DiCaprio and John C. Reilly. The film follows the story of Gilbert, a 25-year-old grocery store clerk who is caring for his morbidly obese mother, as well as his mentally disabled younger brother, Arnie.[4] The film takes place in the fictional rural town of Endora, Iowa.

Peter Hedges wrote the screenplay, based on his 1991 novel of the same name. Filming took place from November 1992 to January 1993 in various parts of Texas.

The film was well received, with Depp and DiCaprio's performances garnering critical acclaim. At age 19, DiCaprio received his first nominations for the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, becoming the seventh-youngest Best Supporting Actor nominee for the former.


In the small town of Endora, Iowa, Gilbert Grape is busy caring for Arnie, his mentally disabled younger brother who is about to turn 18, as they wait for the many tourists' trailers to pass through town during an annual Airstreamers' Club gathering at a nearby recreational area. His father had hanged himself seventeen years earlier; since then, his mother, Bonnie, has spent most of her days on the couch watching television and eating. With Bonnie's morbid obesity leaving her unable to care for her children on her own, Gilbert has taken responsibility for repairing the old house and being protective of Arnie, who has a habit of climbing the town's water tower, as well as trees, while his sisters, Amy and Ellen, do the other housework. A new FoodLand supermarket has opened, threatening the small Lamson's Grocery where Gilbert works.

A young woman named Becky and her grandmother are stuck in town when the International Harvester Travelall pulling their trailer breaks down. Gilbert's unusual life circumstances threaten to get in the way of their budding romance. To spend time with Becky to watch the sunset, Gilbert leaves Arnie alone in the bath. He returns home late and finds Arnie still in the bath the following morning, shivering in the now-cold water; his guilt is compounded by his family's anger and Arnie's subsequent aquaphobia. Becky becomes close to both Gilbert and Arnie. While they are distracted during one of their talks, Arnie returns to the water tower that he is always trying to climb. Arnie is arrested after being rescued from the top of the tower, causing Bonnie — who has not left the house in more than seven years — to become the laughing stock of the town as she goes to the police station, forcing Arnie's release.

Soon, Arnie ruins two birthday cakes: the first, which Amy has lovingly made, accidentally; and the second, a replacement from FoodLand, which he dips into, having found it in the refrigerator. Arnie tries to run away from his bath, and in his frustration, Gilbert finally snaps, hitting Arnie several times. Guilty and appalled at himself, Gilbert flees, driving away in his truck. Arnie also runs to Becky, who takes care of him for the evening, and helps him overcome his aquaphobia, until he is picked up by his sisters. After some soul-searching, aided by Becky, Gilbert returns home during Arnie's 18th birthday party to make amends to his family for running out, and to receive Arnie's reluctant forgiveness. He also apologizes to his mother for his behavior, and vows not to be ashamed of her or let her be hurt anymore. She acknowledges how much of a burden that she has become to the family, and he forgives her. Gilbert also introduces Bonnie to Becky, something he had been reluctant to do.

Following the party, Bonnie climbs the stairs to her bedroom for the first time since her husband's suicide. Arnie tries to wake her, but discovers that she has died. With no way to remove her body from the second floor, the police make plans to return with a crane the next day. The family instinctively knows that there will be a crowd of people there to get a laugh, instead of paying their respects. Wanting to keep her death from becoming a mockery, the family removes the furniture and belongings from the house, after which Gilbert lights a match to burn the house to the ground with her body still inside.

A year later, Amy gets a job managing a bakery in the Des Moines area, while Ellen looks forward to switching schools and living in a bigger city. Gilbert waits by the side of the road with Arnie, waiting for the tourist trailers to come again. As part of the convoy, Becky arrives with her grandmother and picks them both up. Gilbert tells Arnie, "We can go anywhere."



Filming for What's Eating Gilbert Grape began November 2, 1992, and concluded in late January 1993.[1] It was shot in Texas, in various towns and cities; Austin and Pflugerville were primary locations, as well as Manor, where the water tower featured in the film was located.[5] Christian Bale was up for the part of Arnie, but lost to DiCaprio.[6]

Film Review quoted actor Leonardo DiCaprio:

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 ill 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.[7]


Leonardo DiCaprio's performance received widespread critical acclaim, garnering the then-19-year-old a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, making him the seventh-youngest Best Supporting Actor nominee.

The film had a limited release December 17, 1993, and wide release March 4, 1994.[3] The wide release garnered $2,104,938 in its first weekend. It was considered a box-office bomb, with the total domestic gross for the film $10,032,765, although it achieved greater success on home video.[8]

The film received positive reviews, with many critics praising the performances by Depp and DiCaprio. The latter was singled out for his performance in the film, many saying that DiCaprio stole the film from the lead actor, Depp. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film was given a 90% score, and an average rating of 7.40/10, based on 50 reviews. The site's consensus states: "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."[9] Metacritic calculated an average score of 73 out of 100, based on 20 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[10]

The 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."[11]

Roger Ebert of the 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.[12]

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".[13]

The Washington Post's Desson Howe thought that the film was an earnest but highly predictable effort.[14]

Film Review praised Leonardo DiCaprio as the mentally disabled brother, calling it "a performance of astonishing innocence and spontaneity", bringing "a touching credibility to a very difficult part".[7]

Year-end lists[edit]


Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
66th Academy Awards[21] Best Supporting Actor Leonardo DiCaprio Nominated
51st Golden Globe Awards[22] Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Nominated
65th National Board of Review Awards[23] Best Supporting Actor Award Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards 1993[24] Most Promising Young Actor Won
1993 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[25] New Generation Award Won

Home media[edit]

The film was released as a "special collector's edition" DVD from Paramount June 20, 2006.[26] The edition includes an audio commentary track by director Lasse Hallström and writer Peter Hedges, as well as the featurettes, "The Characters of Gilbert Grape", "The Voice of Gilbert Grape" and "Why We Love Gilbert Grape".

It received a Blu-ray release August 16, 2022.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "What's Eating Gilbert Grape". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 12, 2021.
  2. ^ "What's Eating Gilbert Grape - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  4. ^ "6.120: Autistic Disorder". Social Sci LibreTexts. July 23, 2020. Retrieved February 22, 2024.
  5. ^ Clinchy, Don (December 13, 2011). "Lone Star Cinema: What's Eating Gilbert Grape". Slackerwood. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
  6. ^ "Why Christian Bale Declared Leonardo DiCaprio His Nemesis". www.cbr.com. May 21, 2022.
  7. ^ a b Cameron-Wilson, James; Speed, F. Maurice (1994). Film Review 1994-5. Great Britain: Virgin Books. p. 148. ISBN 0-86369-842-5.
  8. ^ Eire, Grace (July 18, 2017). "10 Surprising Facts About 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape'". littlethings.com. Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  9. ^ "What's Eating Gilbert Grape Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  10. ^ "What's Eating Gilbert Grape Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 28, 2022.
  11. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 17, 1993). "Movie Review: What's Eating Gilbert Grape". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 4, 1994). "What's Eating Gilbert Grape". Roger Ebert. rogerebert.com. Retrieved August 23, 2021.
  13. ^ McCarthy, Todd (December 5, 1993). "What's Eating Gilbert Grape Review". Variety. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  14. ^ Howe, Desson (March 4, 1994). "What's Eating Gilbert Grape". Washington Post. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  15. ^ Elliott, David (December 25, 1994). "On the big screen, color it a satisfying time". The San Diego Union-Tribune (1, 2 ed.). p. E=8.
  16. ^ Craft, Dan (December 30, 1994). "Success, Failure and a Lot of In-between; Movies '94". The Pantagraph. p. B1.
  17. ^ Hunter, Stephen (December 25, 1994). "Films worthy of the title 'best' in short supply MOVIES". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  18. ^ Dudek, Duane (December 30, 1994). "1994 was a year of slim pickings". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 3.
  19. ^ Persall, Steve (December 30, 1994). "Fiction': The art of filmmaking". St. Petersburg Times (City ed.). p. 8.
  20. ^ Carlton, Bob (December 29, 1994). "It Was a Good Year at Movies". The Birmingham News. p. 12-01.
  21. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards". oscars.org. Retrieved September 5, 2023.
  22. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1994". goldenglobes.com. Archived from the original on January 19, 2018. Retrieved September 5, 2023.
  23. ^ "1993 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved September 5, 2023.
  24. ^ "1993 - Winners of the 6th Annual Chicago Film Critics Awards". chicagofilmcritics.org. Retrieved September 5, 2023.
  25. ^ "19th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". lafca.net. Retrieved September 5, 2023.
  26. ^ Holleran, Scott (June 16, 2006). "Close-Up: Lasse Hallstrom on 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape'". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 5, 2023.
  27. ^ "What's Eating Gilbert Grape Blu-ray". blu-ray.com. Retrieved September 5, 2023.

External links[edit]