WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE is a movie about a dysfunctional family in which the children, especially the oldest boy, Gilbert, compensate by doing many of the mother's chores due to her excessive weight of 500 pounds. The film has some objectionable elements like the suggested affair between Gilbert and Betty, but contains enjoyable off-beat humor and style.
WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE is an offbeat slice-of-life drama sprinkled with humor to lend the serious issues a measure of charm, substantiated with incredible performances by Depp, DiCaprio and Lewis. Set in a small town called Endora, the film offers a rural look at a family caught in a dysfunctional existence. The father hanged himself in the basement years before, and the mother has been so depressed because of it that she has eaten herself to 500 pounds and has not left the house in seven years. The two teenaged sisters cook, clean and do the mother’s jobs, and Gilbert, the eldest son, takes care of his seventeen-year-old autistic, childlike brother, Arnie. Gilbert’s life changes when Becky’s tourist camper breaks down in town, and he starts to date her. In the process, he becomes aware that being in his family is like being in prison.
The movie has off-beat humor and style, but also shows a sensitivity to the autistic brother’s and mother’s situations. Johnny Depp’s performance as Gilbert is excellent as is Leonardo DiCaprio’s as the autistic brother. Although there are some questionable elements such as the hint of an affair between Gilbert and a lady friend and several kissing scenes, they are not offensive or crude. The film contains no nudity and no obvious sexual situations and is an enjoyable “slice-of-life” drama.