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Gilbert Grape Johnny Depp lives in Endora, a place where nothing much happens. The only times the police got something to do is when Gilbert's autistic brother Arnie Leonardo DiCaprio tries to climb up on the watertower nearby. Taking care of Arnie is mostly Gilbert's task which can be pretty demanding, at least while you are working at the local grocery store. Then one day Becky Juliette Lewis and her grandmother passes through Endora getting trouble with the car. Gilbert falls in love with Becky, but gets problems when he tries to find time for his own private life.
This is the movie that Leonardo DiCaprio received an Oscar nomination for, five years before Titanic. And, in fact, this is the movie that should have made him a star, he's so good in it. Based on the novel by Peter Hedges who adapted his own book and directed by Lasse Hallström My Life as a Dog, this is the funny, moody tale of a young man named Gilbert Grape Johnny Depp who lives at home in a small town with his 500-pound Momma beautifully played by nonpro Darlene Cates, his mentally retarded younger brother Arnie DiCaprio, utterly convincing, and his sisters. Not a lot happens--Arnie keeps climbing a water tower and getting stuck; Gilbert is involved with a married woman Mary Steenburgen, then meets a nice new girl in town who's closer to his age Juliette Lewis. And that's exactly what makes this movie so much more than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood product: it's not about some mechanical, formulaic plot; it's about these characters, and it allows you to spend some time with them and get to know them. Depp may have started out as a TV teen idol on 21 Jump Street, but his feature film choices since then--in such wonderfully offbeat and diverse movies as Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands, Benny & Joon, Donnie Brasco--have made him one of the most interesting, unpredictable, and risk-taking young actors in American movies. --Jim Emerson