Reel Opinions

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Weather Man

You certainly have to hand it to director Gore Verbinski, he doesn't allow himself to be pigeonholed to any one genre of film. From family comedy (Mouse Hunt), to horror (The Ring), to action adventure (Pirates of the Carribean), he likes to try something different each time. The Weather Man is perhaps his most challenging film yet, as it cannot exactly be placed under any one particular category. Is it a comedy? Yes, it has some of the biggest laugh out loud moments I've seen this year. But, it is also a tragedy. Its protagonist is a broken man who is trying desperately to put the pieces of his life back together. The smile that he portrays on the TV whenever he does the local area weather is so forced that no one watching him buys it. Maybe that's why he's continuously pelted by junk food as people drive by him on the street...

Nicholas Cage plays David Spirtz, a Chicago-area Weather Man who, as the film opens, is forced to watch helplessly as his life around him falls apart. His ex-wife (Hope Davis) is planning to remarry, his teenage daughter, Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena) is ridiculed at school and looking for direction in her life, his son, Mike (Nicholas Hoult), seems to always be in some sort of trouble, and he's just received word that his father, Robert (Michael Caine), only has a few months left to live. David has dreams of someday being an author like his father, who won the Pulitzer Prize when he was only 28 years old, but he sees his dreams of success slipping away day by day.

The only source of hope in David's life is a possible job as a Weather Man for a national morning news show in New York. Not only does he see this as a chance for more money, he sees an opportunity to perhaps reconcile with his family, and get them back together. He thinks that perhaps if he becomes a national celebrity, his wife and kids will view him as less of a loser, and they will be happy again. Of course, that's not the reason. David's entire family looks down upon him because he is desperate to buy his family's love with expensive gifts, and other such luxuries. Even with a bigger paycheck and national recognition, David will still be a broken, defeated, bitter man who lashes out into fits of obscenities often without knowing, and who is forever jealous of those more successful than him. David is a man who has taken the easy route in life, and now doesn't know what he wants anymore.

The Weather Man has mainly been billed as a comedy in its advertising, and it is in many scenes. But it is also painfully honest, truthful, and somewhat sad at the same time. David is a great leading character, because we see parts of ourselves in him. True, they may be parts that we may not want to admit that are there, but they are there nonetheless. David is a man who is so worn and beaten in life that we almost pity him just by looking at him. He is a sad sack constantly looking for acceptance, and never getting it, because everyone knows he's a phony. His TV career, his lavish apartment, his nice clothes and fancy car - it's all a ruse. It's all built on a career that he really has no interest in. Hell, the guy doesn't even have a degree in metrology. The only reason he's a Weather Man is because it's big pay for working 2 hours a day, and occasional personal appearances once in a while. His career, and basically his entire life is built on taking the easy way out instead of following his true desires, and it is now starting to take its toll.

The heart of the film is David's numerous attempts to win favor with his family, especially his father, Robert, who has been enormously successful all his life and has been loved by many. He got that way through hard work and determination, things David has lacked all his life. Robert has always been somewhat disappointed in the path his son has taken. David, meanwhile, wants nothing more than for him to be proud of him and acknowledge his accomplishments, which he never has. Why should he acknowledge them, though? It's not what David truly wants. There is a scene early in the film that displays their relationship beautifully using only visual imagery. David picks up Robert to take him to the hospital for some tests. He lays a letter he has sent to the New York TV show, hoping his father will notice. He does not, rather he sits upon it without even blinking an eye. Later, David takes the letter and lies it upon the dashboard, so that it will reflect in the front windshield, hoping once again that his father will notice. Once again, he does not. It is not that Robert does not love his son, it is simply that he knows his son is desperate for his love, and is going about it all wrong. Their final scene together, set to a classic Bob Seger tune, is powerful and honest, and a great way to wrap up their relationship.

The performances of both Nicholas Cage and Michael Caine make these scenes all the more memorable. This is by far some of their best work for both actors in recent years. Cage is able to bring sympathy, yet anger, and a certain likableness to his challenging role. He is able to make David somewhat pathetic without making him appear unlikable. This is key, as the entire story is shown from his point of view, and he's in literally every scene. Caine plays a once-great man who is near death, and does not know how to be open to his son, because his son won't stop lying to himself and those around him. Both actors bring three dimensions to their performances, and are definitely the most intriguing characters I've seen in a mainstream movie so far this year. The entire cast all around is fantastic, bringing depth and true feelings. David's ex-wife is not a shrieking harpy like in most comedies, but is a sensitive and realistic portrayal of a woman who has been trying to put the pieces of their relationship back together (they even go to group counseling sessions at one point), and has begun to realize that there is no hope for them - something that David has yet to realize.

The Weather Man is an odd little film. It is a comedy about a tragic life, but it does not laugh at the situations in David's life. The comedy comes out of the dialogue and the reality of the situation. We laugh out of familiarity, and we also laugh at the witty dialogue by writer Steve Conrad. And yet, we feel a certain sadness. The sadness comes out of the same things, just in different ways. From it's performances, to its appropriately bleak Chicago winter setting, this movie is such a fascinating little find that I really hope finds an audience. People will either embrace or push away its leisurely paced story. It is not so much a mainstream dramatic comedy, as it is the evaluation of a life that has gone wrong. The Weather Man is certainly one of the more thought-provoking films of the year.

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