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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

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Image credit: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993

After returning from a trek across small-town America, I decided it would be fun to see what the area around my adopted city of Austin used to look like before tech companies and tract housing took over large swaths of land. Did it once resemble the rural areas I’d just driven through, covered in corn fields, scrub brush, and the pathetic vestiges of a lost election? Or was it always papered in little boxes made of ticky-tacky? Research told me that if I wanted a peek at the Austin suburbs of yore, I’d have to go back to the 1993 Lasse Hallström feel-good classic, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (Disc/Download).

Shot on location in the Texas hamlets of Manor and Pflugerville (that’s MAY-nor for all you out-of-towners), this quirky gem has the Lone Star state standing in for the fictional small town of Endora, Iowa. Gilbert (Johnny Depp) is the glue holding his dysfunctional family together, but even the strongest epoxy has a melting point. With a dangerously obese mother, mentally-disabled little brother, angry teen sister, and dead-end job at a failing grocery store, he’s one crisis away from a nervous breakdown. Even friends like Crispin Glover and John C. Reilly can’t pull Gilbert out of his funk, nor can the sexy housewife (Mary Steenburgen) who carries a torch for long-haired, high-cheeked delivery boys. No, it takes the sunny presence of Juliette Lewis, and the wide-eyed innocence of a young Leonardo DiCaprio to make him see there’s still a big life ahead of him– he just needs to grab it. Nominated for an Academy Award, DiCaprio’s performance in this film remains a career highlight, as he all but disappears in to the role of Arnie. It’s worth a watch just to see that level of raw talent.

Austin may not be covered in farmland to the North and East anymore, but the grapes sure are thriving in the West. Using some wine I picked up in the Texas Hill Country, I made a drink that perfectly captures some great local flavors. While watching What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, I recommend drinking this Rosé Lavender Lemonade.

Rosé Lavender Lemonade

4oz Dry Rosé Wine (I used William Chris Vineyards Skeleton Key Rosé)

1oz Lavender Simple Syrup

1oz Lemon Juice

2 oz Club Soda

Lemon Slice for Garnish

Combine Rosé, Simple Syrup, and Lemon Juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then pour into a glass filled with fresh ice. Top with Club Soda, and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a lemon slice.

This film resonates with me in a lot of ways, but particularly in its handling of grief. There’s been a lot of that in my life recently, and yes there have been times when I’ve felt tempted to just set the house on fire, pack up my car, and go. But there’s another way to move forward, that doesn’t involve arson or abandonment. It’s looking around, taking stock of what’s important, and figuring out how to conscientiously unload the rest. Figuring out, like Gilbert, how to be a good person. Cheers!