Displaying the off-centre whimsy that characterised his international arthouse hit My Life As A Dog, Swedish-born filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom casts his gaze upon the quiet contours of rural America in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? The result is a small-town comedy with a big heart and just a touch of soul, as Hallstrom again displays a rare sensitivity for the nuances of emotional responsibility within a close-knit family.
Gilbert (Johnny Depp) is a young man living in Endora, Iowa (population 1,091), along with his 500-pound mother and mutually supportive siblings, all misfits struggling to find their place both inside and outside their ramshackle weatherboard home on the outskirts of town. Apart from a ho-hum job and a part-time affair with an older married woman, Gilbert's days are spent looking out for his brother (Leonardo Di Caprio plays the slightly autistic Arnie, delivering an outstanding and justly Oscar-nominated performance of intense authenticity) who is forever being threatened with incarceration for disrupting the town's cockeyed ennui.
Into the dreamy, dead-end world that is Gilbert's treadmill existence comes Becky (Juliette Lewis), riding a mobile home and offering a glimpse of potential change.
But the nature of that change is never predictable in Hallstrom's oblique Midwest fable, for in this touching tale, what's eating Gilbert Grape is what tenderly gnaws at us all: the blood ties that bond, bind and block our itching hopes to go somewhere, do something, be someone else.