What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Americana, Coming-of-Age, Slice of Life  |   Release Date - Dec 17, 1993 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 118 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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This tender but unflinching examination of the tension between individual happiness and family obligation neatly condenses a large ensemble, a lengthy backstory and a lot of subtext into two delightfully cinematic hours. Just a touch of voice-over from leading man Johnny Depp sets the stage for a story that is told from his character's viewpoint even as it takes in a host of supporting players and deals with such tangential issues as frustrated infidelity and the strip-malling of America. After his roguish turn in This Boy's Life, Leonardo DiCaprio made his name as a serious young actor with his top-notch work as the retarded Arnie; spot-on physical and vocal mannerisms broadcast DiCaprio's technical prowess, but his performance here has the sort of emotional undertow and sly, if childlike, intelligence that has eluded other actors as accomplished as Dustin Hoffman in similar roles. Non-actress Darlene Cates is fantastic as the manipulative yet ultimately dignified and sympathetic Momma, while the supporting cast, from John C. Reilly and Crispin Glover to Juliette Lewis and Mary Streenburgen, provides comic asides, thoughtful interludes, and catharsis upon command. In the end, though, it's Depp and director Lasse Hallstrom who hold it all together, the former actually using his soulful eyes instead of coasting on the beauty of his gravity-defying cheekbones, the latter deftly balancing pathos and contemplation and keeping his large cast and story in line.