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What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • What's Eating Gibert Grape is a beautifully shot movie of tenderness, caring and self-awareness that is set amongst the fictional working class one street town Endora. Centred around the Grape family Ellen and Amy and their two brothers Arnie and Gilbert, who, along with their morbidly obese widowed mother Bonnie Grape are striving to survive and coexist with the absence of a father figure, low wage work and seventeen-year-old Arnie's severe mental condition. It is in this awkward and extremely one sided affair that the unfortunate Gilbert has to constantly, while working for the town's slowly dying convenience store, take care of his younger brother Arnie. Gilbert's life, his future, is thwarted he knows this, but it is in this guardian angel that his love and bond for Arnie cannot, and will not, be let go. That is until the free spirit of Becky arrives in town, and with her grandmother are stranded for the week while waiting for parts for their vehicle. This realization unties new feelings, new thoughts and new hope for the put upon Gibert, something new is eating Gilbert Grape.

  • There isn't much for Gilbert to look forward to in the small, dying town of Endora. The only thing keeping him sane is his mentally-challenged brother, and his physically-challenged mother. Despite the challenges that are posed in this small town, Gilbert had forgotten that he has become challenged himself and, with the help of a marooned world traveler, begins to see the bigger picture.

  • Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom's follow-up to the underrated Once Around earned far more attention than its predecessor thanks to the judicious casting of perennial thinking woman's heartthrob Johnny Depp and a certain up-and-coming thespian by the name of Leonardo DiCaprio. A prisoner of his dysfunctional family's broken dreams in tiny Endora, IA, Gilbert (Depp) serves as breadwinner and caretaker for his mother and siblings following his father's suicide and his older brother's defection. Momma (Darlene Cates) is a morbidly obese shut-in who hasn't left the house in seven years; her children include Arnie (DiCaprio), who's about to turn 18 despite a host of negative medical forecasts, and terminally embarrassed Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt), who's emerging from an awkward adolescence. When he's not taking care of the difficult but tender Arnie, Gilbert spends his time fixing up the family's tattered farmhouse, working at a failing mom-and-pop grocery store and hanging with local misfits Bobby (Crispin Glover), an overly ambitious junior undertaker, and Tucker (John C. Reilly), a handyman who hankers after a job at the new burger franchise. Into this complicated but essentially unchanging social universe steps Becky (Juliette Lewis), a thoughtful young woman who's been escorting her nomadic grandmother from state to state in a mobile-home caravan. As Becky teaches Gilbert to finally consider his own happiness for a change, she disrupts both his family obligations and his long-running affair with a lonely housewife (Mary Steenburgen).

  • Gilbert Grape lives in Endora, a place where nothing much happens. The only times the police get something to do is when Gilbert's autistic brother Arnie 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 and her grandmother pass 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.

  • After his father's death, Gilbert has to care for his mentally-disabled brother, Arnie, and his morbidly obese mother. This situation is suddenly challenged though, when love unexpectedly walks into his life.

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The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • In the small town of Endora, Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is busy caring for his mentally challenged brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) as they wait for the many tourists' trailers to pass through town during their yearly camp ritual at a nearby recreational area. His mother, Bonnie (Darlene Cates) is morbidly obese after years of depression following her husband's suicide. With Bonnie unable to care for them by herself, Gilbert has taken responsibility for repairing their shanty of farmhouse and looking after Arnie, who has a habit of climbing up the town water tower (like Spider-Man) if he is left unsupervised for too long, while his older sister Amy (Laura Harrington) and younger sister Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt) slave away in the kitchen. The relationship between the brothers is one of care and protection. In order to cope with his frenetic life, Gilbert has taken on a secret love affair with a housewife, Betty (Mary Steenburgen), whilst her insensitive, unsuspecting husband Ken (Kevin Tighe), is fully intent on selling Gilbert insurance for his family. A new chain supermarket has opened, threatening the small Lamson's Grocery store where Gilbert works, as well as threatening all the other small-time businesses in Endora. The chain supermarket stocks all kinds of goods, rendering many of the local shops redundant. This is a key theme in the film - which constantly portrays the futility of goods made with love in light of ever sweeping corporate greed.

    While the family prepares for Arnie's upcoming 18th birthday party, a young woman named Becky (Juliette Lewis) and her grandmother are stuck in town when their truck towing their trailer breaks down. Gilbert's unusual life circumstances threaten to get in the way of their budding romance. In order to spend time with Becky watching the sun set, Gilbert leaves Arnie alone in the bathtub by himself, believing he is now old enough to get out on his own. He returns home late and wakes up the following morning to find Arnie still in the bath, shivering in the now-cold water. Gilbert's guilt is compounded by his family's anger. As a result Arnie refuses to get near water, including the pond by Becky's trailer, and his fear causes him to become extremely dirty, adding to the many problems Gilbert faces. Betty's affair with Gilbert ends when she begins to make demands on him and tries to have sex with him while he's on the phone with her husband, Ken. Ken drowns after suffering a cardiac arrest and landing face down in his sons' wading pool. Many of the townspeople believe Betty killed her husband, despite the insistence of Gilbert's friend, Bobby McBurney (Crispin Glover), one of the town coroners, that believes it was a cardiac arrest. Besides Bobby, Gilbert is the only one who believed Betty didn't commit murder, and she eventually leaves town in search of a new life.

    Becky bonds with Gilbert and Arnie and helps Gilbert reflect on his feelings. They become deeply involved in conversation until Gilbert realizes that Arnie is missing. He has returned to the water tower he is forever trying to climb and this time has succeeded at getting to the top. Arnie is arrested, compelling Bonnie, who has not left the house in seven years, to rush to the police station to demand his release, causing her appearance to be ridiculed by the townspeople.

    Later at home, Arnie prematurely eats some of his birthday cake, which Gilbert told him not to touch. Gilbert orders Arnie to take a bath as punishment, and Arnie resists when Gilbert tries to force him. Losing his temper, Gilbert strikes Arnie-hard. Appalled at himself and angry at his life in general, Gilbert drives away, leaving Endora. Arnie leaves the house to find Becky, who takes care of him. Gilbert returns to town and sees Arnie with Becky, who is able to get him to enter the lake, and thus Arnie overcomes his fear of water. After Amy and Ellen come to Becky's and take Arnie home, Gilbert approaches Becky and the two talk about his own frustration and the reality of his father's death. The next day he returns home during Arnie's birthday party to apologize. Following Arnie's eighteenth birthday and meeting Becky for the first time, Bonnie climbs the stairs to her bedroom for the first time in years. That evening she passes away in her bed. Arnie tries to wake her, thinking that she is just playing. He runs out of the house and begins to hurt himself. As his sisters try to stop him, they realize that Bonnie has died. Jerry, the local sheriff, and his deputies tell the Grape family that they would need more men to get Bonnie out of the house (an officer on the radio inappropriately says they'd need the National Guard). After the police leave, Gilbert and his sisters soon cry over losing her. The siblings realize that her removal would draw a gawking crowd and want to protect their mother from being a spectacle. They empty the house except for their mother's body, then Gilbert sets the house on fire.

    One year later, Gilbert and Arnie are looking out again to watch the trailers pass. Through voice over, Gilbert tells of Amy getting a job offer to manage a bakery in Des Moines, and Ellen being thrilled to switch schools. Arnie chases the vehicles, arms flailing, excited to see Becky again. Along with Becky and her grandma, Gilbert and Arnie hit the road.

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