What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

Movie review by
Ellen Twadell, Common Sense Media
What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Movie Poster Image
'90s drama about dysfunctional family has mature themes.
  • PG-13
  • 1993
  • 118 minutes
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 24 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This movie attempts to show empathy and understanding toward those with morbid obesity or mental challenges. The obesity of the mother of the family is indirectly linked to the depression she experienced over the suicide of her husband and her oldest son running away from their family's difficulties. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Gilbert displays self-sacrifice and selflessness as he tries to take care of his developmentally-disabled brother, earn money for the family, and take care of their house while trying to find a way to have a life of his own. He resists any temptations to simply pack up and leave their small Iowa town like his older brother. The mother, a morbidly obese woman who has not left her house in years, leaves the house to get her son out of jail, bravely enduring and ignoring the slack-jawed stares of passersby and the cruel remarks of kids. Becky, on the road with her grandmother, isn't judgmental toward anyone in the Grape family, accepts people for who they are, and displays kindness and patience. 

Violence

A developmentally-disabled teenage boy is slapped in the face repeatedly by his older brother during a moment of overwhelming frustration. This same boy is arrested by the police after climbing the town's water tower one-too-many times; he is forced into the back of the squad car and bumps his head upon entry. Reference made to the hanging suicide of the family's father. A stressed-out father has a heart attack (not shown) that is discussed among characters. Three friends discussing the mortician work one of the friends does leads to a talk as to whether or not the morticians "mess with" the bodies. A house is set ablaze by the lead characters. 

Sex

The lead character is having an affair with an older married woman. Oral sex is nearly initiated by her as he's on the phone with her husband. 

Language

Occasional profanity: "s--t," "a--hole," "hell." One use of the middle finger gesture by a teen. Jokes and cruel remarks whispered or mentioned offhand by people in the town at the expense of the Grape family's morbidly obese mother and developmentally-disabled son. The developmentally-disabled son laughs maniacally at the mention of their father, then repeats over and over again "He's dead!" while holding his hands to his neck in imitation of the father's suicide in the basement of the house. 

Consumerism

The theme of the homogenization of America is explored through minor subplots: a large supermarket chain that has opened outside of the small Iowa town in which this movie is set is hurting the business of the long-time mom-and-pop store, a fictionalized fast-food chain restaurant opens in the town to great fanfare. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarette smoking from adults. Some beer drinking from adults -- no one acts drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is a 1993 coming-of-age movie in which a young man, Gilbert (Johnny Depp), tries to carve out a life of his own even as he must be the "man of the house" to his dependent family. The mother, who has been morbidly obese since the suicide of her husband, is presented as a fully-developed character, but is also the victim of taunting from both children and adults. The teenage son Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) is developmentally disabled, which causes him to repeat words and phrases overheard while being incapable of understanding how these words might be hurtful to others, such as repeating "Dad's dead!" at the dinner table while holding his hands to his neck in imitation of the way his father killed himself in the basement. Gilbert is in the midst of an affair with an older married woman -- at one point she tries to initiate oral sex on him while he's on the phone with her husband. This husband, overwhelmed and stressed-out, loses his temper on his kids, forcing them into their kiddie pool before he dies of a heart attack (not shown). Death and dying is discussed. Occasional profanity: "s--t," "a--hole," "hell." Cigarette smoking and drinking. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAmeliaKaderWood June 29, 2009

I feel so sorry for Arnie. :(

This film was really good. I loved the acting, most notably young Leonardo DiCaprio's. I feel so sorry for Arnie, he is always picked on and well, of cours... Continue reading
Adult Written bywonder dove November 8, 2012

Loved it since a kid!

My sister introduced me to this movie when we were young, around the first time it came out on video (nothing much disturbed me - I could handle almost any film... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old March 19, 2010

A perfect film.

This film is absolutely incredible. There are no words to describe how true and beautiful this film is! It has amazing performances from Johnny Depp, Leonardo D... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byshadowexile6 March 10, 2009

Touching

Ok let me start of by saying that i am twelve and i just clicked the wrong button. I loved this movie personally, i thought it had a good plot, great acting, a... Continue reading

What's the story?

WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE is a strange and touching take on family life. Gilbert (Johnny Depp) lives in a small town in Iowa with his family, including his housebound mother (Darlene Cates) and his mentally challenged brother, Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gilbert is the only one with a job and has the additional worry of caring for Arnie, who loves to climb the town water tower. When the well-traveled Becky (Juliette Lewis) arrives in town for a short stay, Gilbert starts to dream about leaving his town and his worries, which include an ill-advised affair with a married woman. Throughout the film, Gilbert is torn between his own wishes and his loyalty to his family.

Is it any good?

What's Eating Gilbert Grape is sometimes hard to watch, but well worth it. There are some difficult scenes dealing with hard-hearted outsiders teasing the Grape family, and some scary ones when Gilbert loses his temper with Arnie. But there are also moments of beauty and compassion, and an offbeat sense of humor throughout. A wonderful cast brings the characters to life. Watching this movie will remind viewers of Depp's talent and DiCaprio's range. The film is also a visual treat, with lush sweeps of Iowa farm country serving as a backdrop for the drama.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Gilbert becomes the breadwinner and caretaker for the family after his father's death. How much sacrifice does family demand? How can individuals meet their own needs when they need to take care of their families? 

  • For far too long in movies and TV, overweight people were presented as little more than fat-shaming punchlines. How is this move different in its portrayal of a morbidly-obese woman? How does the movie attempt to connect her obesity to depression? 

  • Does this movie seem like a realistic depiction of small-town life in a rural Midwestern state? Why or why not? 

  • Gilbert's family faces a lot of negative attention from the town, and he struggles to remain loyal. What qualities are worth loving? Is there love in the Grape family?

Movie details

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