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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.
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?
- In theaters: January 1, 1993
- On DVD or streaming: July 27, 1994
- Cast: Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio
- Director: Lasse Hallstrom
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book characters, Brothers and sisters, Misfits and underdogs
- Character strengths: Empathy, Integrity
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature themes, language.
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