The Weather Man
Directed by Gore Verbinski. Starring Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis, Gemmenne de la Peña, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Rispoli, Gil Bellows. (2005, R, 102 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 28, 2005
David Spritz (Cage) belongs to that dissatisfied modern movie breed of privileged white men who reach some kind of spiritual breaking point and decide to fight back: Think Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, Edward Norton in Fight Club, or Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys or Falling Down. Ostensibly a success story, Spritz is a top Chicago weatherman who’s currently under consideration for a broadcasting position on a New York morning show, Hello America (co-hosted by Bryant Gumbel, in an amusing cameo). The transfer would mean national exposure, a significant salary increase (from the neighborhood of a quarter-million to a round million, plus endorsements), and career promotion to the top of his chosen field. Yet Spritz (né Spritzel) is unhappy and feels like a fraud, and the chilly ice- and snow-encrusted Chicago-area landscape (courtesy of Sideways cinematographer Phedon Papamichael) reflects his gloom. It’s as if an errant storm cloud from one of his CGI sets is perpetually parked over his head, threatening a downpour but letting loose with only a few scattered showers. Spritz is the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Robert Spritzel (Caine), whose attitude toward David always carries the slightest tone of restrained disapproval. There’s no joy in David’s home life either: He’s estranged from his wife Noreen (Davis), who lives in their lovely two-floor home in Evanston with their children – chubby and sullen adolescent Shelly (De la Peña) and teenaged Mike (About a Boy’s Hoult), who’s in therapy for his marijuana use and is the recipient of unwarranted extra attention from his counselor (Bellows). David wants to fix what ails his children, restore his marriage, and win his father’s respect, but as this desire swells ever greater, the less David knows what to do. His urgency becomes more palpable as his father is diagnosed with lymphoma and his wife announces her intention to remarry. When The Weather Man functions in this realm of personal failure it’s at its most heartfelt and universal. Cage does some of his finest work as he flips back and forth between the character’s bouncy, gregarious screen image (always standing in front of a blank green screen) and his sad-sack daily life; meanwhile Caine delivers a triumph of understatement. Screenwriter Steve Conrad has less success with the female characters: The always dependable Davis is forced into shrewish territory, and David’s mother (Judith McConnell) is so barely present that it’s a wonder she’s written in at all. David takes up archery along the way, and the metaphors that arise from that activity are just too painfully trite. Also bothersome is the film’s running gag of people throwing food remnants at the local weatherman: Rather than a means of debasement and/or revelation, it seems more a wily product-placement scheme, as every Wendy’s Frosty, 7-Eleven Big Gulp, McDonald’s hot apple pie, and so on is identified and commented on. This problem of mismatched tones – between the broad and the nuanced in both the film’s comedy and drama – is a problem throughout, and perhaps reflects the film’s interim place in the midst of Verbinski’s filming of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. Toward the end of the film Spritzel remarks on his son’s deeds by calling them "an American accomplishment." At once superficial and yet meaningful, the phrase encapsulates the paradox of our – and this film’s – dreams and ambitions.