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'Gilbert Grape' at 20: When Johnny met Leo...

One of the downsides of living in a movie landmark with a half-mile long driveway is that obsessed fans who can’t get a satisfactory peek from the road will occasionally think nothing about rolling up to your front door. Jim Lutz and Alex Carrillo have lived in their 100-year old farmhouse in Manor, Texas, since 1977, raising five children, running a jewelry business, and occasionally lending their rustic home to a movie or television production. But the tourists who come knocking aren’t imposing on their hospitality because of Roadie, the 1980 movie starring Art Carney and Meat Loaf that filmed there. And they aren’t snapping pictures because they loved the season of The Simple Life where Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie swept through. Rather, they’ve driven long distances — some come all the way from Europe — because of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, the 1993 movie that starred Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio.

In hindsight, perhaps one can understand the allure. Twenty years later, Depp and DiCaprio are huge Hollywood stars — one is Capt. Jack Sparrow and the other was the King of the World in Titanic. But Gilbert Grape barely made a ripple in theaters when it opened in December 1993, grossing only $10 million. Despite positive reviews and a prescient Oscar nomination for DiCaprio’s supporting turn as Gilbert’s mentally challenged brother Arnie, the movie was marginalized as “quirky” and endured a failed platform release and uninspired marketing campaign. “It had a terrible log-line: ‘Life is a terrible thing to sleep through,’” laments Grape’s director Lasse Hallström. “Who wants to go see a movie about someone who is sleeping through life?”

But rather than slip into obscurity, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? has grown over time into a beloved gem, not only for its celebrity leading men, but for its enormous heart — best represented by Darlene Cates, the amateur actress who played the boys’ overweight shut-in mother who never recovered from her husband’s suicide. “Gilbert Grape had its revenge as a DVD and a VHS,” says Hallström. “People found it later on and there was a period when you started picking up on the fact that people had seen it over and over again.” Like the one pilgrim to Manor from Tombstone, Ariz., who saw the movie 40 times, felt compelled to visit the Grape house, and ended up hanging around the Lutz farm for a couple of days. “It’s been a real special movie for a lot of people,” says Lutz. READ FULL STORY

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