What's Eating Gilbert Grape: Special Collector's Edition – DVD Review

Directed by:
Lasse Hallström

Johnny Depp …. Gilbert Grape
Leonardo DiCaprio …. Arnie Grape
Juliette Lewis …. Becky
Mary Steenburgen …. Betty Carver
Darlene Cates …. Bonnie Grape
Laura Harrington …. Amy Grape
Mary Kate Schellhardt …. Ellen Grape
Kevin Tighe …. Ken Carver
John C. Reilly …. Tucker Van Dyke
Crispin Glover …. Bobby McBurney

Paramount Pictures presents What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Based on the novel by Peter Hedges. Running Time: 117 Minutes. Rated PG-13 (for mature themes). Released on DVD: June 20, 2006

The Movie

While it was released back in 1994, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape never truly entered the public eye until around 1998. When a little film by the name of Titanic was released and turned Leonardo DiCaprio in to the number one teen heart throb in the nation. That new found fan base of teenage girls lead to them all going down to their local video store and checking out as much of his previous work as possible. In that short list of work was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, a small quirky film that while not what people were expecting from a film co-starring Leo, was a very modest yet very well put together piece of cinema.

Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) lives in a small town in Iowa by the name of Endora and is the care taker of his two sisters, Amy (Laura Harrington) and Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt), his obese mother (Darlene Cates) and mentally disabled brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio). He works in the town only grocery store to support them, but all of the customers went away once a Foodland opened up just outside of town. Endora is a shining example of a “small town”, everyone knows everyone and gossip spreads fast. Not much happens there but when something does, you can sure bet that a crowd will form, be it a death in the town, the opening of a fast food restaurant or a local climbing up the water tower.

He hangs around with very eccentric people, like Tucker (John C. Reilly) who can’t stop talking about the economical advantages of the fast food chain Burger Barn. Or Bobby (Crispin Glover) who runs the local mortuary, but since it’s such a small town he’s just waiting around for someone to kick the bucket. Bobby gets so antsy at times that he begins to ask people about their relatives health. Along with those two, Gilbert’s in a steamy affair with one of the stores best customers, who’s only such a great patron because she uses deliveries as a cover in order for the two to get together.

Gilbert is in a state of mind where he wants to break free from what’s holding him back, but his need to be a good person keeps him from that goal. His want to please all of those around him leaves him making all of the sacrifices and missing out on the life he could be living. Or atleast the life that he in his mind believe is what he wants the most. To leave Endora, be free, and live his own life, not having to worry about being the parent in his still youthful years, not to be stuck in the dead end town of Endora for the rest of his life. We see this progression as the film moves along, as he begins battling himself over what choice is the right one.

When a girl by the name of Becky and her grandmother are left stranded on the outskirts of town due to their truck breaking down, Gilbert and her begin a relationship and he starts to look at it as a possible way to finally step away from everything.

Depp plays a very selfless role in Gilbert, a person who never seems to feel like he fits in no matter where he is. Yet the way in which Depp approaches the role, Gilbert is made very human, relatable in his actions of just wanting to break free of a hectic world he fears he’ll never be rid of. And now that he’s found his one opportunity in Becky, he fears even more that once she’s gone his window for leaving will close. And who knows if it’ll ever open again. DiCaprio is the other who deserves much accolade for his performance as the mentally handicapped Arnie Grape, it’s hard to watch this role and see just how talented he was at the age of only eighteen. The Academy Award nomination for his work here was deserving.

Actually, watching this movie again I couldn’t believe the amount of talent that was compiled, Crispen Glover, John C. Reily, Juliette Lewis not to mention Leo and Depp. This is a cast one could only dream of getting together for a small production like Gilbert Grape in this day and age. And it’s these talented individuals that help lift an already engaging script in to a very enjoyable way of spending two hours in front of the TV. The casting director deserves much praise for the ensemble he put together here, from the leads all the way to secondary characters, everyone is perfectly cast in their roles and play them just as flawlessly.

The trouble with trying to write about this film is that much like the town of Endora, not much happens, which is what makes the film so unique. It’s first and foremost a character study of people that seem like they could only live in a novel (which, obviously they did, as this is an adaptation of Hedges’ novel by the same name). Every character we encounter in the film is quirky, original, warm, and interesting, making the film one that’s very pleasing to watch. The reason for it becoming such a popular title over the years is due in large part to such things as VHS, video rental chains and cable channels like HBO, where it grew it’s audience over time and has quietly become one of the best offerings from the 90’s.


(Presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen)
Colors seem a bit muted, there are a few moments where obvious grain is noticeable and some scene come off a bit softer than they should. There is also a tiny issue with noise in the picture. Black levels and flesh tones stay solid throughout. For the most part this new transfer has less grain and dirt than the previous DVD and has a much sharper look. While the transfer is a bit uneven, it certainly is a far superior disc when compared to the old DVD.

(English Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0 Surround Sound)
The film wasn’t intended as much of an aural experience. Yet the 5.1 track included does make use of the rear speakers when it can, like when the films lovely musical score kicks in. Still, as the film is a basic character study the front speakers do the majority of the work and the audio is presented as clear as possible.


In an odd turn of events, it seems like Paramount actually went out of their way to get as much of the principal cast & crew back as possible to talk about the film in these special features. Which, if you’ve watched enough of their discs, you’d know that 90% of the time the extras on their DVD’s are standard cookie cutter EPK material.

Feature Length Commentary – Director Lasse Hallström and author Peter Hedges do a track together and the first thing to say about this track is that more writers need to do these things. Hedges shares plenty of information on the work that was done when he had to translate the book in to a screenplay, something he had never done at the time. He also a few times will break down scenes to their basic levels and talk about why they’re so critical to the film and how the actors did a wonderful job pulling them off. The two create a very enjoyable and entertaining track and both show that they still have plenty of passion for the movie and characters.

The Characters of Gilbert Grape (10:44) – Author Peter Hedges talks about how each character he created in the novel were people whom he wanted to spend time with in real life. They go down the list of characters in the film from Gilbert, Mama, Artie and Mrs. Carver with each actor (with the exception of DiCaprio who is present through on set interviews filmed over a decade ago) share their views on the characters and their experience working on the film. Depp is heavily present in this feature and quite clearly filmed his portion of the featurettes while filming the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, he sings the praises of everyone he worked with.

The Voice of Gilbert Grape (5:32) – Peter Hedges starts this featurette also and talks about how the character and world of Gilbert Grape came to him. He says for the most part that the entire concept was all created off the top of his head when asked by a student in class one day what he had written, and he improvised the answer on the spot. Depp shares what it was about the character that brought him to the role and how he committed to the film before a script was even written, based solely on reading the book. And Lasse Hallström talks about what drew him to the novel and eventual film adaptation.

Why We Love Gilbert Grape (7:50) – This featurette is much like The Characters of Gilbert Grape, where it has everyone talking about what part of the film they enjoyed the most, and discuss why the film still has an impact on audiences. Many of the actors and crew say how they still have fans walk up and thank them for the film, and how they’re proud of the final product.

Also on the DVD are the film’s Theatrical Trailer, a Photo Gallery and Previews for Reds: Special Collector’s Edition (FINALLY!), Titanic: Special Collector’s Edition and Failure to Launch.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
(OUT OF 10)






The Inside Pulse
Sure, this film got it’s following thanks to the Leo craze post Titanic, but now we get this swanky special edition in large part due to the sudden establishment of Johnny Depp as a Hollywood leading man. But really, who cares what the motives are behind this new special edition, what we get here is a package that finally does some justice to this small film that got the shaft when first put out in both theaters and DVD.