The Weather Man
Directed by Gore Verbinski
The Weather Man was a nice try, a noble effort. The idea was to craft an off-beat, atypical comedy within a character study of frustrated man’s journey to self acceptance. David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) is local Chicago TV weather man who stoically endures humiliation -- viewers throw fast food at him. The comedy doesn’t work as often or as well as it should in Weather Man, but I have to commend the filmmakers. The grim story of David’s mid-life struggles is as un-Hollywood as is the dark humor. There are no easy solutions to his or his family’s problems – and he probably isn’t up to the task anyway. His obese, twelve-year-old daughter (well played by Gemmenne de la Peña) probably needs tough love as much as a low-calorie diet but David spoils her instead, apparently needing her approval. His ex-wife (Hope Davis) makes it pretty clear that she’s willing to deal with him politely for the sake of the kids – but David can’t seem to get the message and beats his head against the wall trying to get her back. His teenage son, in rehab for drugs, may be on the verge of more serious problems – but again, David seems to want to be liked more than to be the most effective parent.
The heart of the film is the rivalry between David and his father, Robert Spritzel (Michael Caine) – their last names differ because David shortened his for TV marketing purposes. Robert Spritzel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer – he exudes gravitas with every breath. He effortlessly dominates his son -- presumably the source of David’s low self-esteem. Michael Caine plays the part with his characteristic elegant, aloof restraint – he’s just as perfect for that part as Nicholas Cage is perfect for the hang-dog-frustrated, mid-life-crisis, over-paid, underachiever. Their scenes together are some of the best in the film – they explain David’s problems and, later, show how he makes some progress in resolving them. David knows that, within his family, he has no hope of being the alpha male. Even though Robert is helpful and caring toward his son and grandchildren, he projects a calm condescension – and Michael Caine does it so well – that drives David into depression.
The problem I have with Weather Man: it’s such a melancholy, serious drama - they use Chicago weather as a metaphor for David’s state of mind -- that it desperately needs more comic relief than it has. There are some very funny scenes – when Robert explains his granddaughter’s “camel-toe” problem to David. Another: David, walking the city streets, becomes distracted by a beautiful woman – we see Nic Cage’s frustrated expression and hear, in voice-over, his stream of consciousness. Very funny stuff… the movie really needed much more well-executed, off-beat humor. The balance was too far in favor of the serious, the ponderous – the filmmakers should have told the same story, an interesting one, with a different balance: more humor.
Director Gore Verbinski (best known for The Pirates of the Caribbean -- he’s also doing the sequel) took on an ambitious project here – he bucked the conventions of both character study (melancholy, not the typical feel-good) and of comedy (introspective, dark, atypical for Hollywood.) Even the slapstick in Weather Man was presented differently, with David reacting to being hit by a milkshake by turning inward. Some of my favorite films combine off-beat humor with a character’s dilemma that has no easy resolution: Adaptation (in which Nic Cage plays a similar character – they had to have thought of Adaptation when he was cast for this movie) and American Beauty. But in both of those cases, the critical balance of humor vs. seriousness was tilted much more in favor of humor – I’m talking about atypical, dark humor, but those movies still come across as funny in the overall sense – and it didn’t damage the serious storytelling in either case. I can’t quite give Weather Man my recommendation, but it’s such an ambitious undertaking that I can say that you could do much worse these days.
Images are copyright Paramount Pictures.
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