F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 3, 2010)

3 12 2010

With the smash hit “Inception” hitting shelves next week, I thought now would be as good a time as ever to revisit a little-known movie of its star, Leonardo DiCaprio.  I’ve featured virtually every supporting cast member in the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column before, and it’s time for the Academy Award-nominated DiCaprio to join their ranks.

(For the sake of reference and shameless promotion, I’ll list the other stars and their criminally underseen gems: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s, “The Lookout,”  Tom Hardy’s “Bronson,” Ellen Page’s “Hard Candy,” Marion Cotillard’s “La Vie en Rose,” Cillian Murphy’s “Sunshine,” Michael Caine’s, “Children of Men,” and director Christopher Nolan’s “Following.”  Ken Watanabe … perhaps coming soon?)

So for Leo’s entry, I submit “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”  This is one of his early movies, four years before “Titanic” superstardom, and at 19, he shows the same mastery of acting as he does in the psychologically tormented characters that he played in 2010.  Here, his Arnie suffers a different mental affectation: a developmental disability that was supposed to take his life at the age of 10.

Eight years later, his care is left largely in the hands of older brother Gilbert Grape, played by a younger, red-haired Johnny Depp.  Gilbert struggles with his circumstances: he’s frustrated living in the small town of Endora, Iowa, where nothing seems to happen.  He’s tired of being stuck in a job at the down-home town grocery store, preventing him from using the modern supermarket that has opened nearby.  He’s fed up with his family whose apathy leaves him with all the responsibilities since his obese mother is practically immobile, his father has deserted the family, and his siblings are caught up in their own little worlds.

But when the yearly exodus of trailers comes through the town, Gilbert is offered some relief from his dreary existence by the prospect of romance with Becky (the ever-so-’90s Juliette Lewis).  Her presence shakes up his life, making him more hesitant to add sensuality to his grocery delivery for the maritally frustrated Betty Carver (Mary Steenburgen).  But there are more profound changes that happens in Gilbert and his life, and director Lasse Hallstrom unravels the Grape family saga with such sensitivity that it’s irresistible and profoundly satisfying to watch.

There’s so much emotional depth endowed to this character that isn’t externalized by Depp, and 10 years before his first Oscar nomination, anyone who saw this movie could have seen it coming.  But the real star of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” is DiCaprio, who surrenders to the character to the extent that it’s possible to forget who you’re watching.  To think that this is the same actor who wowed us in “The Departed” and “Inception” becomes hard to believe as we watch his overwhelming physicality draws our eyes to him for the entirety of the movie’s two hours.



One response

8 12 2010

I love this movie. It’s probably in my top 5 films ever.
… And Di Caprio has never been better

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