Tag Archives: Juliette Lewis

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993, Lasse Hallström)

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape does something very unscrupulous… it relies on the viewer’s affection for its characters to get away with being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

In terms of narrative honesty, I mean.

Gilbert Grape is, for the majority of its run time, a lyrical character study. Yes, it takes place in a summer and not an average one, but director Hallström goes out of his way to show the extraordinary events in the film as standard in the characters’ lives. Sven Nykvist’s photography, Alan Parker and Björn Isfält’s beautiful score, it all combines to create that lyrical mood.

Then something little happens, thanks to the introduction of Juliette Lewis’s stranded tourist into the lives of locals Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio’s lives.

Then something big happens and it turns out that deus ex machina finish isn’t even necessary, not even a part of it, for Gilbert Grape to work. One has to assume writer Peter Hedges, adapting his own novel, wasn’t willing to streamline for the sake of narrative honesty.

Depp’s strong in the lead, Lewis is good as his love interest. DiCaprio, as Depp’s mentally handicapped brother, is outstanding. But Laura Harrington and Mary Kate Schellhardt are great (though underutilized) as Depp and DiCaprio’s sisters. Darlene Cates is affecting, if a little rocky.

Excellent supporting work from Crispin Glover, Kevin Tighe and Mary Steenburgen.

Regardless of the narrative subterfuge, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is an excellent film. It’s often a wondrous, transcendent experience with some exquisite acting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lasse Hallström; screenplay by Peter Hedges, based on his novel; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Andrew Mondshein; music by Alan Parker and Björn Isfält; production designer, Bernt Amadeus Capra; produced by David Matalon, Bertil Ohlsson and Meir Teper; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Gilbert Grape), Leonardo DiCaprio (Arnie Grape), Juliette Lewis (Becky), Mary Steenburgen (Betty Carver), Darlene Cates (Bonnie Grape), Laura Harrington (Amy Grape), Mary Kate Schellhardt (Ellen Grape), Kevin Tighe (Ken Carver), John C. Reilly (Tucker Van Dyke), Crispin Glover (Bobby McBurney) and Penelope Branning (Becky’s Grandma).


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Due Date (2010, Todd Phillips)

It would have been nice if they had credited Planes, Trains & Automobiles as the source material, since Due Date lifts the concept—high-strung guy on the road with an annoying, but secretly lovable fat guy.

Due Date stays close to the pattern; the fat guy has a lot of melodramatic angst fueling his actions. It does add Facebook references, American Pie-style humor and stunt casting. Wait, Planes, Trains had stunt casting too.

So, it’s hard to look at Due Date as original and harder to discuss it as such. Phillips treats it like “The Hangover on the road;” it bellyflops when too outlandish. It’s too real a situation not to wonder why Robert Downey Jr.’s character isn’t on the FBI’s most wanted list for causing an international incident.

Some of the problem is Downey. He’s funny, but inappropriate for an absurdist comedy. Even here, when he’s giving one of the most rote performances of his career, he’s stellar. He does stumble through some of his character’s worst scenes, but the writing there is so false, it’d be impossible for him to succeed.

Zach Galifianakis is an amiable fat guy. Dumb but lovable.

The supporting cast is made up of former Downey co-stars—Michelle Monaghan (who has absolutely nothing to do), Jamie Foxx (ditto) and Juliette Lewis (who is funny). Again, hard to think of it as an original film.

The ending is pretty good though. I just wish Phillips would realize he’s not a Panavision auteur.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Todd Phillips; written by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel and Phillips, based on a story by Cohen and Freedland; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Debra Neil-Fisher; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Phillips and Dan Goldberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Peter Highman), Zach Galifianakis (Ethan Tremblay), Michelle Monaghan (Sarah Highman), Jamie Foxx (Darryl), Juliette Lewis (Heidi), Danny McBride (Lonnie) and RZA (Airport Screener).


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The Switch (2010, Josh Gordon and Will Speck)

I suppose if someone wanted to think really hard about it, there’s something to be said about adapting short stories for Hollywood. Jeffrey Eugenides’s source short story was in The New Yorker. Is it ripe for mainstream Hollywood adaptation? Given the adaptation, The Switch, failed at the box office, one might say no. But then if people don’t see good movies (or read good fiction), maybe a New Yorker short story is a good starting place for a mainstream movie.

The Switch is a completely predictable family comedy. It’s not really a romantic comedy because the romance between Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman is tertiary to Bateman forming a relationship with the son he never knew he had, played by Thomas Robinson.

The opening third is set seven years before (odd how Aniston and Bateman didn’t age a day) and has a different tone. It’s a lot funnier. The film opens on a hilarious urban sequence. Then the supporting cast–Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis and Patrick Wilson–get introduced and they’re a lot funnier than they get to be when there’s a kid around.

Gordon and Speck earn a bunch of good will and basically spend the last hour of the film using it and it works. It doesn’t hurt the film’s got one of the single best romantic comeback lines since, I don’t know, Empire Strikes Back.

Bateman’s really good here. All of the casting is good, but Bateman’s performance suggests he’s capable of great things.

It’s totally fine.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck; screenplay by Allan Loeb, based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides; director of photography, Jess Hall; edited by John Axelrad; music by Alex Wurman; production designer, Adam Stockhausen; produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jason Bateman (Wally), Jennifer Aniston (Kassie), Patrick Wilson (Roland), Jeff Goldblum (Leonard), Juliette Lewis (Debbie) and Thomas Robinson (Sebastian).


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Christmas Vacation (1989, Jeremiah S. Chechik)

It’s telling how Christmas Vacation is probably John Hughes’s best film and no one noticed it when it came out. I mean, it’s got its problems–the introductory first half, where all the characters are established and Chevy Chase and company drive around that part of Wisconsin with the big mountains looking for a Christmas tree, is a complete mess. But once Christmas itself starts . . . the film’s solid gold.

The film, regardless of what section, works because of Chevy Chase. He’s not doing his doofus dad here. He’s doing his doofus dad with a nice amount of Fletch injected. It lets him have a little bit of edge and keeps him from being the butt of the jokes. Hughes recycles a lot from previous scripts (anyone else notice it’s basically Sixteen Candles at Christmas) and it’s entirely competent. In a lot of ways–the quality of jokes–it doesn’t even seem like him. The absence of black people (in Chicago, so Christopher Nolan’s Chicago is the same as John Hughes’s apparently) is visible until the end, when the one black actor is the film’s only real authority figure….

Anyway.

It’s perfectly cast–William Hickey and Mae Questel kind of walk away with it in terms of laughs, but John Randolph’s so good in it, in his one big scene, I teared up.

The production values–even with the bad Cali inserts–are good; Chechik can direct and Angelo Badalamenti’s score is way too classy.

It really is a modern classic.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik; written by John Hughes; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Gerald B. Greenberg and Michael A. Stevenson; music by Angelo Badalamenti; production designer, Stephen Marsh; produced by Hughes and Tom Jacobson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold), Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswold), Juliette Lewis (Audrey Griswold), Johnny Galecki (Rusty Griswold), John Randolph (Clark Wilhelm Griswold Sr.), Diane Ladd (Nora Griswold), E.G. Marshall (Art Smith), Doris Roberts (Frances Smith), Randy Quaid (Cousin Eddie), Miriam Flynn (Catherine), Cody Burger (Rocky), Ellen Hamilton Latzen (Ruby Sue), William Hickey (Uncle Lewis), Mae Questel (Aunt Bethany), Sam McMurray (Bill), Nicholas Guest (Todd Chester), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Margo Chester), Brian Doyle-Murray (Mr. Frank Shirley) and Natalia Nogulich (Mrs. Helen Shirley).


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