The Weather Man
Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis, Gemmenne de la Pena,
Nicholas Hoult, Michael Rispoli, Gil Bellows.
Directed by Gore Verbinski. Rated R. 101 Minutes.

When thick chunks of ice turn Lake Michigan into a frozen wasteland, and
blankets of snow pummel the Chicago pavement, everyone turns to local weatherman
Dave Spritz (Nicolas Cage). What Spritz does isn’t rocket science. The people of
Chicago know it’s cold and miserable. Spritz, as his
Pulitzer-prize-winning-author father reminds him, just reads the weather. He
doesn’t create it and, quite frankly, doesn’t understand it.

That doesn’t stop people from throwing stuff at him — big gulps, shakes,
burritos — always fast food. People need to take their misery out on someone, so
why not the guy who reminds them day after day it’s going to be cold and wet?
Who does the weatherman turn to when he’s miserable?

Welcome to the wobbly world of Dave Spritz (formerly Spritzel and changed for
television), a man who appears to have everything in life but the one thing he
wants most: acceptance. He doesn’t get it from the people on the street (his
anger eventually alienates his fans); he doesn’t get it from his father, and
believes his estranged wife is turning their kids against him.

The Weather Man isn’t exactly mainstream entertainment; it has something much
more important on its mind. I doubt audiences will flock to see what amounts to
the emotional growth of a man who has everything except gratitude. Dave Spritz
isn’t so much a victim of the times as he is a victim of his own value system.
He has a dream job, a nice car, a decent place to live, and is able to support
his ex-wife Noreen (Hope Davis), son Mike (Nicholas Hoult) and overweight
daughter Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena).

Instead of being able to enjoy what he has, Dave regrets what he’s missing.
Even though his wife has moved on and lives with another man, he wants them to
attend couples counseling. He desperately wants his father’s approval, even when
Robert (Michael Caine) literally sits on Dave’s dream job, becoming the
weatherman for the national feed of Hello America. Dave wants his kids back,
especially when Noreen overreacts after finding Mike with a joint and sentences
him to rehab.

Anyone who has ever had to struggle to put food on the table or buy clothes
for the kids will find most of Dave’s inner turmoil artificial. How dare someone
with so much feel like a loser? That’s the point. Dave is a loser because he
feels like a loser. He feels like his life is out of control and he is barely
capable of holding on to his own emotions, much less sharing in those of the
people he loves.

Nicolas Cage is excellent as the sad sack navigating an early mid-life
crisis. With his made-for-television haircut and hangdog expression, Cage
perfectly manufactures the appearance of a man with a lot on his mind. Watching
Dave go from selfish to selfless allows us to invest in the character even when
his actions border on irredeemable. Steve Conrad’s screenplay isn’t littered
with melodrama and jokes. If anything The Weather Man is as unexpected as a
spring shower. From the first frame, it’s impossible to tell where this film is
headed. Cage is at his best playing characters with a broken moral compass
(Leaving Las Vegas, Lord of War, Adaptation), and Dave Spritz falls into that
category.

Going down…or up perhaps?

More than anything, The Weather Man is about family dynamics — how we see
ourselves as sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and, most important to Dave,
providers. He knows he has a good thing, but measures his family’s acceptance
and love by his success. Forget that he pulls down a salary north of $400,000,
plus appearances, Dave dreams that with more money and fame his family,
especially his father, will treasure him even more.

He’s wrong. When Robert arrives with bad news, Dave has mixed feelings. He
feels sadness but hopes if he can grab the golden ring before it’s too late,
he’ll gain his father’s approval. The father-son relationship is what makes The
Weather Man so special. Like Field of Dreams, we know the only way for Dave to
comfort his father is to heal himself. You’ll never be able to listen to Bob
Seger’s Like a Rock again without shedding a tear.

Which is why I loved The Weather Man. It’s what they used to call the whole
enchilada, a little of everything rolled into a delicious feast, touching on
every emotion. One moment you’re laughing, the next you’re in tears. Most of the
time director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) keeps us engaged in the
everyday lives of the characters, the little observations which make these
people real.

Caine deserves an Oscar nomination as Robert, a writer who achieved
extraordinary success at an early age, and who always has the right words on the
tip of his tongue. Robert is no-nonsense, saying what needs to be said but
capable of wearing his heart on his sleeve. The conversations between father and
son are insightful, honest, poignant and frequently hilarious.

Hope Davis is inviting as Noreen, who wishes the best for Dave but needs to
move on with her life. There’s a glimmer of hope in Noreen’s eyes as she watches
Dave grow, but it’s not a schoolgirl crush reborn. She’s just happy to see him
moving on. Less happy are Mike and Shelly, who, left to their own devices, have
become strangers to their parents. Both Hoult and Pena deliver adult
performances, especially Pena as the outcast Shelly. Her initial fascination
with archery (actually hunting, but that’s another story) opens the door for one
of Conrad’s most unpredictable side trips.

The Weather Man won’t turn cloudy skies blue, but it will chase your blues
away.