What's Eating Gilbert Grape: Special Collector's Edition Lasse Hallström

For a screenplay with relatively little dialogue, there’s a lot going on in this portrait of small town America and its requisite angst. Obesity, mental illness, death, corporate destruction of rural businesses and the burden of family all figure prominently in Peter Hedges’ screenplay (adapted from his novel). And while the themes tend toward the universal, they are anchored to a small, broken family and their unique struggles. The main reason to revisit this 1993 gem on DVD, however, is in watching the film’s handful of terrific performances. Leonardo DiCaprio is uncanny as the mentally handicapped Arnie Grape — compare this performance to his recent Howard Hughes role in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (and the uneven work in between) for a persuasive case that this is America’s most impressive young film actor. For the role of the obese "Momma,” director Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat) cast amateur Darlene Cates. It’s an incredibly affecting performance (the word "brave” seems apt but patronising) and it provides the raw core that the film revolves around. There are more strong performances — John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Juliette Lewis and Johnny Depp as the title character — and all of them bring depth and humanity to their flawed characters. The one clear miss is the criminally underused Crispin Glover in his dispensable supporting role. The DVD contains three recently made "making of” featurettes, with many of the film’s actors looking back with a tangible fondness for the project. These extras are insightful and emotive in their own way and well worth the 20 or so minutes they comprise. Hearing Depp, in full The Pirates of the Caribbean production hair, lauding DiCaprio’s performance and the "dashing young man he has become today” is a graceful example of professional camaraderie. Also included are a writer/director commentary and the original theatrical trailer. (Paramount)