Oh my god. So. This is utterly heartwarming tale of a boy, Gilbert Grape (also known as Johnny Depp before he got dental surgery) who lives with his mother, two sisters and brother, Arnie. Arnie is mentally handicapped (played by Leonardo DiCaprio who ignored Robert Downey Jr.’s character’s advice in Tropic Thunder, “you never go full retard.” And thank god he did). Every time I see this movie, or Basketball Diaries I’m again simply blown away by Leo. Like yes, Titanic, (or more importantly THE AVIATOR) but by that point he’s older. These two movies, he’s like fourteen and clearly already has the emotional depth of Morgan Freeman.
But, back on topic. Gilbert lives in Andora, state unknown, and he is so lonely. He has some friends- a mortician and John C. Reilly, (who went on to star in equally moving roles in The Legend of Ricky Bobby, Talladega Nights, and Stepbrothers). Gilbert also has an affair with a woman much older, whose husband ends up drowning in a kiddie pool and dying in an odd turn of events, but basically he’s alone. He works at a small grocery store frequented by no one and seems to spend a lot of time pushing his hair back. (Which is dyed RED?? Interesting).
We actually don’t know what his life is normally like, because in the first scene, there are these motor homes/caravans coming into town and they bring with them a young Juliette Lewis. Between the long neck and short hair, she looks like a swan with a crew cut. If you’ve never seen one of these elusive creatures, they’re beautiful. Gilbert and Becky (we only learn her name in the last 15 minutes of the movie) sort of strike up an odd friendship, in a very My Girl kind of way- they play outside a lot and the sexual tension seems pretty tame. And they share a lot of meaningful hugs. But throughout the movie they get their hormonal acts together and start exhibiting normal teenage behavior, mostly two scenes of sort of sloppy but romantic making out. At the end, (spoiler alert- except this movie came out like 20 years ago, so if you haven’t seen it by now you deserve someone ruining it for you) when Gilbert and Arnie get into her grandmother’s car to drive off into the sunset together they start making out IN FRONT OF HER NANA it was supposed to be okay because they haven’t seen each other in a while…but it was still weird.
There are a lot of things going on. First, Gilbert’s dad hung himself when he was little, and his mom has sort of dealt by not leaving the house and eating. She is very big and for the majority of the movie Gilbert seems very insensitive to it; lifting small children up to the window so they can gawk at her, comparing her to a beached whale, etc. But at the end he has a change of heart and realizes he shouldn’t make fun of her. They also have an intense hug.
Which is fortuitous because she dies like the next day. There was a lot of commotion – the whole movie sort of revolves around this big party they’re having for Arnie who is turning 18, but was told he wouldn’t live much past 10. So it’s a wonderful celebration, big party la la la. But, as always happens when you have a signifigant event, there’s a lot of stress and drama (Real Housewives of Andora!!) leading up to it. In what is probably the emotional climax of the movie, Gilbert, who has been Arnie’s protector the entire movie and always the one looking out for him/rescuing him, kind of snaps and hits him really hard in the face. A couple of times. Then he drives off into the night. The sisters go out looking for Arnie (who has also run off) because their mom can’t really walk. Both brothers end up at the mobile home of Juliette Lewis’ (Becky’s) grandmother. Arnie goes swimming with Becky while a remorseful Gilbert watches from behind the bushes. He’s kind of been a dick to Becky recently because her grandmother fixed their car so they will be leaving town soon. But now, after the sisters pick Arnie up, Gilbert is discovered and he and Becky make out by a fire. It is unclear whether or not they “bone,” but if Benny and Joon is any indicator in these coming-of-age-Johnny-Depp-romances, I’ll go ahead and venture not. It’s sweeter that way.
Anyway. There’s a whole lot of symbolism in the movie I suppose, the house- built by Gilbert’s late father- has a weak foundation and could collapse ‘at any minute’ we are informed by John C. Reilly who has two main personality traits: he knows his way around the foundation of a house, and he is CRAZY about ‘Burger Barn’ which is a chain restaurant that sells, well I don’t even really need to say what it sells since it’s so alliteratingly obvious. So while the family is having these arguments, the house is creaking and you feel like someone (especially the woman who weighs around 700 pounds) is going to fall through the floor at any moment. However, to the credit of this movie, no one ever does. Also Gilbert likes to climb things, trees, and most frustratingly to his family, the water tower in town. He always manages to get on that thing when other people are distracted, either because they’re engaged in sexual activity involving a married woman and ice cream (Gilbert) or practicing the Tuba (sister whose name I don’t remember and could look up, but don’t actually care enough to). So he’s often physically on another level than most of the other characters and out of their reach. I wonder what it means…
One great thing about the sisters, (maybe the only one? Not really sure) is that this movie came out in 1993 and the clothes/make up are deliciously plaid and icy, in that order. There’s enough blue eyeliner and denim to keep any 90’s baby appeased. Johnny Depp I’m convinced wears the same pair of jeans throughout the whole movie, and it’s interpreted as endearing not disgusting which would never happen in this decade. Juliette Lewis has a sort of tomboy dresses over pants thing happening and it works well for her.
But back to the plot! If I wanted to dissect 90’s fashion I would just youtube a Cranberries single! In the end of the movie, after their mom dies (she dies by the way) Gilbert & co. decide that because she is on the second floor of the house (her final act) it would take a crane to lift her out and inevitably because Andora is such a small town, a crowd would form and people would laugh at her. So they decide to burn the house and it’s contents. They move all the furniture out, then, Gilbert strikes a match on a box labeled “Keep Away From Children” to remind the viewer how skewed their roles really are. The four kids stand outside and watch it go up in flames in groups of two- the two girls and the two boys. It has a sort of Noah’s Arc resurrection feel to it- when Noah and all the animals are looking out on the water after God sends a flood to wipe out the entire world- but that could just be the Children’s bible tapes in me talking.
In the end, the kids split up and go off to do their own things, (which is weird because the youngest one is like 13 and the realist in me was like WHERE IS SHE GOING) but Gilbert and Arnie stay together and they meet up with Becky and her Nana and they pile into her truck attached to a trailer and they drive off into the sunset. Again, some plot mirroring- the last and first scene are virtually the same just a year apart- Gilbert and Arnie waiting under a tree for a car to come. And both times it’s Becky. Confirming all my suspicions that Juliette Lewis is some sort of messiah. Normal people don’t have those lips and cheekbones, they just don’t.
Overall, so good. Leonardo DiCaprio AMAZING, Johnny Depp great, everyone else, great- it’s good. I do wonder if Juliette Lewis called Leo up when she did The Other Sister for some handicapped acting tips. Who knows? I don’t. But I likelikelike this movie.
OH MY GOD I also just realized that the woman Gilbert has an affair with plays John C. Reilly’s mom in Stepbrothers!!! That must have been a somewhat shameful reunion for the two of them. “Yeah, so…yeah.”