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"An engrossing character study of the oppressive kind."
"Comedic, chaotic, and pathetic gestures are just some of the little details that give this film a memorable quality."
"Clumsy and uncomfortably imprudent, 'The Weather Man' feels like you're watching a train wreck."
The Weather Man  

Cast

David Spritz: Nicolas Cage
Robert Spritz: Michael Caine
Noreen: Hope Davis
Shelly: Gemmenne de la Pena
Mike: Nicholas Hoult
Russ: Michael Rispoli
Don: Gil Bellows
Review November 2005

When it rains, it pours. And somebody forgot to tell local weatherman Dave Spritz to bring an umbrella. Taking a brief hiatus from favorable box office smashes like "The Ring" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," director Gore Verbinski takes an indie turn with "The Weather Man," a comedy drama about a man who knows how to dazzle on screen, but manages to fizzle off screen. So bad are his character flaws that he's completely lost touch with himself and his family. That, and complete strangers are routinely tossing a variety of fast food items at him. So when the opportunity of a lifetime comes around, a chance to move to New York and start over, Spritz finds himself trying to salvage any semblance of family and self-respect. Such efforts are noteworthy, but devoid of feel good clich?s. And the outlook is remarkably drenched and dreary, making "The Weather Man" an engrossing character study of the oppressive kind.

A local weatherman for a high profile newscast in Chicago, Dave Spritz has found success professionally in a job that requires very little effort. He's even earned an audition with 'Hello America,' one of the nation's premiere morning shows. However, on the home front, things are not so good. For starters, his father Robert, a well respected, Pulitzer Prize winning author, is in poor health. And in spite of all his efforts, Dave cannot win his father's approval. Nor can he win the favor of his wife, Noreen, who has divorced him and moved in with another man, Russ. And to top it off, his children, Shelly and Mike, both have problems of their own. Shelly is overweight, ridiculed at school, and suffers from the same self-esteem issues that plague Dave. And Mike is struggling to overcome drug problems, misguided by a crooked counselor. Thus, with time running short for his father and the possibility that he may wind up relocating to New York, Dave attempts to reconnect with his family.

But sadly, his good intentions are nothing more than a series of social miscues. His attempts to reconcile with his wife result in disastrous misfires, from snowballs in the face to leather glove slaps to issues of broken trust. And Dave overreacts in every instance with a foul-mouthed and frustrated disposition. Undeterred, he keeps trying. And when Shelly expresses an interest in archery, Dave obliges by purchasing her lessons and equipment only to find out later what her true intentions are. Then there's his tumultuous relationship with his father, which hits an all time low during a living funeral. And so it goes. Just when things look like they can't possibly get any worse for Dave, they do. And it will take more than a change in the weather for him to regain his self-esteem and reconcile with his family.

Gore Verbinski has made a good living switching from genre to genre. In 1997, his feature film debut, "Mouse Hunt," was a lively animated family comedy. Then, with Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, he explored the romantic crime drama genre with "The Mexican." Next came a remake of the Japanese horror classic, "The Ring," along with the swashbuckling theme park inspired, "Pirates of the Caribbean." Even though some of these films have been more successful than others, there is no doubt Verbinski understands how to entertain an audience. A director who got his big break by bringing the infamous Budweiser frogs to life, Verbinski employs smart, memorable visuals to keep audiences entertained. Tossing a Big Gulp, a frosty, or a chicken burrito at a pedestrian; carrying a bow and arrow through downtown Chicago; slapping another in the face with leather gloves. Comedic, chaotic, and pathetic gestures are just some of the little details that give this film a memorable quality.

At the very heart of "The Weather Man" is Dave Spritz, a character destined for failure, unable to rise above his shortcomings. In fact, Spritz is so miserable that he has become a living, breathing example of the self-fulfilling prophecy. He recognizes his inadequacies, embraces them, and becomes victimized by them. And he routinely ignores his father's advice, that "the harder thing to do, and the right thing to do are usually the same thing." He skips out on meteorology school and relies on the teleprompter. He changes his name. He ignores the small, but most essential things like tartar sauce. And yet, he wonders why his wife and children have lost respect for him, that his father has given up on him, and that complete strangers throw fast food at him. Everyone can see through his artificiality but him. And all that's left is a grown man with a refreshing smile.

That grown man is played by Nicholas Cage, who is the embodiment of lost confidence, misguided anger, and overwhelming concern. And it's quite unlike the self assured grifters he's played before, from "Lord of War" to "Matchstick Men" to "Gone in 60 Seconds." In fact, it's the kind of performance that is so pitiable and unrelenting that it lends itself to many comedic moments - a mistimed snowball, a chicken burrito exchange, and a verbal barrage with his own fans. Although there is hope for this character, the film's purpose is to keep him suffering. And for that, Cage applies the right amount of distilled enthusiasm, giving Dave countless opportunities for hope only to watch as those hopes are dashed by another foolish misstep. Rubbing salt into the wounds is his father, Robert, played by Michael Caine. Caine's every breath is disappointment - quiet and unemotional. Even when he eats, Caine finds a way through the subtleties of mastication to express displeasure, deflating gestures that reek with failure.

So often, films are reminiscent of that storyline in 'Seinfeld' when Jerry and George decide to write a show about nothing. And certainly, one could argue that "The Weather Man," in all its defeatism glory, has nothing redeeming other than an ending in which the incessant drag on the main character lifts. But the problem with the film is not really due to its dispirited tone; it's due to the uneven nature of Steve Conrad's script, which selectively chooses characters and situations to share while ignoring the rest. For instance, we learn nothing about Dave's employer. We watch how obsessed and how much time he spends with his daughter and how little he spends with his son. And we see him chauffer his father around to and fro without a single appearance from his mother. Verbinski and Conrad would have us believe that these characters are inconsequential to Dave's outlook on life. And I couldn't disagree more.

Clumsy and uncomfortably imprudent, "The Weather Man" feels like you're watching a train wreck. After all, you're observing a character that has made his way through life by taking the easy route. And unsurprisingly, nothing comes easy when he attempts to do the right thing. Although the story lacks some essential character building, there are some dark comedic moments and keen observations in human misbehavior. It's a creative departure for director Gore Verbinski, one that allows for greater risk and reward. The risk is a characterization with little optimism and a story with no Hollywoodisms. And the reward is an unconventional, honest depiction of life without joy. A forecast with cloudy skies and no sun in sight.



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