Have you ever complained about Nicolas Cageís decisions to do all of those Bruckheimer movies like Con Air and Gone in Sixty Seconds like I have? Everyone seems contend with taking the Sean Penn reproach on this ďformer actor.Ē But, after the box-office performance of Lord of War and the opening weekend of his new The Weather Man, who can blame him? Both of these films will end up as two of the most audaciously weird bits of multiplex entertainment of the year and no one will have seen either one of them. Whereís the outrage from the cinematic intelligentsia who DEMAND star power for interesting projects and chastise corporate theaters for not giving quirky projects a venue?
To be fair, it would be hard to get worked up about The Weather Man because itís an odd little duckling. However, itís only odd in parts. Like a dense novel, The Weather Man ends up weaving a fascinating character study while delivering a middling indictment of American ambition and consumerism. While most films that get compared to novels are also (and sometimes appropriately) considered boring, the details offered by blockbuster director Gore Verbinski (The Ring and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and its subsequent sequels) and scribe Steve Conrad actually entertain the audience along the way as they slowly begin to make sense and ultimately frame the story. They plague Cageís David Spritz into a common situation: He is a man materially successful yet personally losing control. Heís the weather man at a Chicago station making lots of money for little work or effort. His American Dream is to land the gig on a Bryant Gumbel morning show. It seems perfect. He gets to be on television and provide for his family. Yet, itís not. The notoriety proves to annoy him as heís recognized standing in line and gets all sorts of fast food hurled at him from nasty ďadmirersĒ. His wife Noreen (Hope Davis) has left him. His son Mike (Nicolas Hoult) has gotten out of rehab and proves to attract trouble. His daughter Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena) suffers pressure for her weight and proves increasingly unhappy. He also must deal with his father Robert (Michael Caine), a famous writer who gets some bad news from the doctor at the beginning of the film.
Instantly the audience is plunged into Davidís miserable existence. He fears that his job is meaningless yet so much time has been devoted to it that everything else has fallen apart. He is awkward with his ex-wife, he cannot connect with his children, and he strains for his fatherís attention. Yet, it becomes quite clear that Davidís attempts to lift himself out of this funk will be unsuccessful. By the end of the film, his grasps for the perfect life only amount to an acceptance that his success in certain fields will only be as the result of failing somewhere else. Where that goes will be left for you to discover. But watching this is fascinating. The running gag of David getting hit by fast food even develops into revelations about his profession and how he fits into it. His obsession with archery may seem a bit obvious but Verbinski films it with enough detail to make it continually intriguing. The director who has made a name for himself at the box office (and has probably used all of his capital to make this bomb) amply uses his skills to maximize the effect of this small little drama. At the heart of all of his films, Verbinski has focused on the turmoil in a family. Look at the brothers vying to live up to the family name in Mousehunt. Seriously. How about the violent aggression that gets passed along in The Ring? Itís all there. This time, itís the point. He also uses dark hues of blue and grey for his visual scheme to give Chicago and its inhabitants a haunting beauty. He even places his actors in the same positions for related scenes to tie everything together. Notice how Cage is always slouched under a clock when dealing with his father, for instance.
But heís not trying to tie the plot together necessarily; Verbinskiís task is far more complicated. He tries to tie Davidís ambition and his failures and his emotions together to show how one man must realize that life is not always going to work out. This is not a hopeless tale but rather one that is critical of how society pigeonholes us into believing he must be everything to be anything. Material and family success is neither celebrated nor reviled. Itís presented as a choice or curse. As David realizes this alongside the audience, we are treated to some creative and mystifying weaving. Thereís an extended subplot where David is worried about how Shellyís wardrobe reveals a ďcamel toe.Ē Thereís also Davidís concern that his memory lapse on a request for tarter sauce might have ended his marriage. Unlike Broken Flowers, another film that relies on details to make its ultimate point, The Weather Man develops a sense of humor and keeps the audienceís attention along the way. Unlike the endless footage of Bill Murray driving around in his Taurus, The Weather Man never causes anyone to shift in their seat. However, the level and intensity of crass dialogue at certain points may cause one to outright bolt from their seats as was the case at my screening.
For the rest of us, The Weather Man is a great modern, morality tale preaching the only way to balance work and life is to wipe the scales clean. It may not be pretty but the film doesnít pretend it so. Man, even the ice on Lake Michigan canít even come together to stay solid. (As the opening and climatic shots indicate.) This is a strange and sometimes frigid trip but one worth taking just for seeing Cage, Caine, and Davis take the screen together. But the next time you see Cage and heís in the sequel to National Treasure, you had better be sure you caught this flick or else your complaining wonít be worth spit.