What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Gilbert (Johnny Depp) has a lot going on in his life. Despite the fact that he lives in the small town of Endora, which seems to be a town going nowhere, he is essentially the man of the house. And what a house…We learn that his father has committed suicide some years back, and Gilbert has essentially become the man of the house, he is the oldest. His two sisters help out, but Amy (Laura Harrington) is 15 years old and really couldn’t care less about anyone and Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt) does her best, but gets easily frustrated and hence adds to the confusion. This leaves us with Arnie Grape (Leonardo DiCaprio). Arnie is autistic, which is entirely different than retardation. Though it may seem similar, Arnie has a sense of what is going on around him, but is powerless to really do anything about it. He is on the verge of his eighteenth birthday, but for all accounts, has the mind of an eight year old. He also has the habit of climbing the town’s water tower when he is left unattended for more than a few minutes! Lastly, Momma Grape (Darlene Cates) is Gilbert’s main responsibility. According to Gilbert, she used to be very beautiful and the picture on the refrigerator proves it. But since her husband’s death, she hasn’t left the house in seven years and weighs close to 400 pounds. She is a shut in and is content to have her kids wait on her hand and foot, while she watches television all day long. Gilbert has a lot of resentment towards her, but still gives kids peeks at her in some semblance of approval.

We can see that life as Gilbert is not that easy, he works at a local market, which is feeling the effects of the major chain, Foodland, and to top it all off, he is having an affair with a local wife, Betty Carver (Mary Steenburgen). This is another headache all together. He is paged for a “delivery” and at the drop of a hat, she is making out with him, kids in the yard and all. This leaves us with Becky (Juliette Lewis). I’ll go ahead and say it, I really don’t like Juliette Lewis as an actress. I don’t doubt her talents, but that monotonous voice of hers seems to ruin most every movie she’s in and grates on my nerves. Luckily she has a smaller, supporting part here and we’re not too exposed to it. In fact, this might be one of her better parts. Becky and her grandmother (Penelope Branning) are going cross-country, but have stopped in Endora while waiting for a key part to their car, it won’t run without it. Gilbert meets Becky and feels that there is something about her that he really likes. Gilbert has friends, Tucker (John C. Reilly) has aspirations of working at the new Burger Barn and is an all-around handyman to boot. Bobby (Crispin Glover) is the local mortician who seems a bit down that people aren’t dying as fast as they should, a perfect part for Glover, who chooses his roles very carefully. There isn’t a lot to say about the plot here, it’s just showing a few days in the life of Gilbert and what he has to do day in and day out. He wants to get out of the town, but he knows that his family and Arnie especially, depend on him.

It eventually comes down to a choice between what Gilbert wants and what he is willing to do to accomplish that goal. We see that he really likes Becky and the relationship between him and Betty is over, after her husband mysteriously dies. In many ways, Arnie is like Gilbert’s son, who will always be with him and need taking care of. I found this film to be very well-made and very moving. It’s also very depressing and not an uplifting movie in the least. Director Lasse Halstrom has gone on to some bigger projects and has garnered notoriety with his recent movies ‘The Cider House Rules’ and ‘Chocolat’ both nominated for Best Picture. Leonardo DiCaprio is simply amazing in his role here and was nominated for an Academy Award for his work. This was all before he was “King of the World”! What’s Eating Gilbert Grape sports a great cast and a very believable storyline, though not a lot happens in the movie.

Video: How does it look?

This new version appears to be the same anamorphic transfer that was used for the previous DVD release. “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” has been enhanced for widescreen televisions and the 1.85:1 image is very strong for the most part. The color palette is very muted and dull. This isn’t a fault of the transfer, but rather how it was shot. I noticed that some scenes were crystal clear and full of detail, while others seemed to have a bit of a soft edge to them. There was a bit of edge enhancement that took away from the presentation a bit, but for the most part it’s a great looking transfer. The print appears to be in good condition, which is understandable since it’s less than ten years old. Black levels appear solid and I believe that most will find this transfer to be better than what they are expecting.

Audio: How does it sound?

As with most of Paramount’s catalog titles, this has been re-mastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. I don’t think I ever heard the surrounds activate, and if they did, I guess I missed it. This is a very dialogue-driven movie and sound obviously isn’t the most important part of the film. There is no distortion to the dialogue at all, and at times the front speakers have some of the score in them. I wasn’t expecting much which is good, because you don’t get much. This isn’t a fault of the Dolby Digital soundtrack, though; it’s just the way the movie was supposed to sound.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This new “Special Collector’s Edition” breathes new life into the title, and while I assume it’s only being released by Paramount because it features Johnny Depp (in anticipation of “Pirates of the Caribbean 2” no doubt), it’s good to see this title getting the deluxe treatment. New to this edition is a commentary by Lasse Hallstrom and writer Peter Hedges. As with some of his other movies, Hallstrom gives an informative and insigtful commentary through his thick Swedish accent. “The Characters of Gilbert Grape”, “The Voice of Gilbert Grape” and “Why we Love Gilbert Grape” are three featurettes that add some substance to the disc, featuring conversations with the actors and the crew as well. Wrapping up the supplements is a photo gallery along with the lone supplement from the previous DVD – the theatrical trailer. If you don’t already own this title, this is the one to get and Paramount has included just enough extras to warrant a re-purchase, if you’re a huge fan of the film.

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