What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

Directed by Lasse Hallström.
Starring Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis, Darlene Cates, Laura Harrington, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Mary Steenburgen and John C. Reilly.
118 Minutes – Rated PG-13

Gilbert Grape is forced to carry the load after his father’s death. He takes care of his special needs brother (who could go at any time), morbidly obese / agoraphobic mother and two younger sisters. But, when he falls for a girl with a life he envies, he is forced to make a choice between those he cares for and himself.

While far from perfect, there is an odd beauty to this story of a family that deeply loves each other but are trapped by each other nonetheless. Fans of Depp might expect him to drip with his usual charisma but he plays Gilbert is a quiet, subdued way. Instead it’s Dicaprio and the unknown Cates who deliver the strongest, most memorable performances.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape doesn’t shine, it shimmers.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988, Japan)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Starring Chika Sakamoto, Noriko Hidaka and Hitoshi Takagi.
86 Minutes – Rated G

The first truly great film by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, My Neighbor Totoro exemplifies everything we love about both.

A father and his two girls move to the country while the mother is in the hospital long-term. Soon the sisters become enchanted with the world of trees and spirits (such as herds of the wandering soot Susuwatari and the great Totoro, keeper of the forest and umbrella enthusiast). Still, their mother’s absence and lingering illness hangs over them.

This is a quiet film that lacks a driving conflict but is all the better for it. Despite all the fantasy, there is realness to the sisters and their relationship. This deep understanding of childhood and its wonders is the true magic behind Totoro and Studio Ghibli.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Director John Cameron Mitchell.
Starring John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask, Andrea Martin and Michael Pitt.
92 Minutes – Rated R

Hedwig is the tale of a “slip of a girly boy” from East Berlin. He flees to the West by trying to change his gender but “My sex change operation got botched… Now all I got is a Barbie doll crotch, I’ve got an angry inch!”

Born out of real drag shows, this flick is too creative, too outlandish and too much fun. Hedwig’s story is told through a series of concerts at crummy seafood restaurants. The songs are consistently entertaining and some of our favorites to be performed in stilettos since our first trip to Frankie’s castle. Despite all the ridiculousness, there is an emotional depth to our lead and his journey (due in no small part to writer/director/lead Mitchell).

Deny Hedwig and be doomed.