The Weather Man
The Weather Man is a strange and unusual film, the kind that Hollywood doesn't make too many of any more. In the US it was sold as a surreal comedy, picking up on the hero's hobby, archery. It was a distinctive campaign, but the film missed its audience by a wide mark, making only about $12 million on general release.
In fact, for all its peculiarities, The Weather Man is a male midlife crisis movie, a second cousin to American Beauty and Fight Club. Nic Cage is Dave Spritz, a TV weather man in Chicago. He makes a lot of money and he's good at his job - but he harbours the deep-seated suspicion that the job is worthless. He knows nothing about metereology, and even the experts who feed him his lines admit: 'It's just wind - no one knows where it's going to go'.
People hate him: throughout the movie he's bombarded with fast food and fizzy drinks from random passersby. And he agrees with them. It's the autograph hunters he can't stand.
Dave is separated from Noreen (Hope Davis). His teenage son is going through rehab, and his 12-year-old daughter is obliviously overweight and unconsciously unhappy.
And then there's his father, Robert Spritzel (Michael Caine), a Pulitzer prize-winning writer and in every way a model father, but a model Dave can't help comparing himself too. He knows he's fallen way short.
Trying to reconnect with his kids, his wife, his father, and auditioning for a million dollar pay-cheque on Good Morning, America, Dave is doing all he can to knuckle down. But somehow he only ends up making everything worse.
The colour palette is all muted greys, and Dave's emotional range runs from depressed to desperate - but the film is not itself depressing. Director Gore Verbinski is better known for 'entertainments' like Pirates of the Caribbean, Mousehunt and The Mexican, but his light touch serves the material well, accenting the ironies without forcing anything, savouring the melancholy absurdity of a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
He doesn't allow his cast to overplay either: it would be easy to caricature the patrician Robert Spritzel as pompous fogey, but Michael Caine cuts a tender, fond figure, unconsciously cruel, genuinely perplexed by the vulgarities of a terminally decadent culture. (Incidentally, it's Caine's best performance in years.) Nic Cage is not a naturalistic actor, but his off-beat gestures are right on the money here: Dave is never quite comfortable in his own skin, and it shows in every tic and grimace. And of course we end up (at least I end up) identifying with his gnawing self disregard.
The movie reminded me a little of Alexander Payne's About Schmidt, but Verbinski and screenwriter Steve Conrad are less judgmental of people, even if they share some of Robert's dismay.
If it has a flaw it's the very thing the marketing people have stressed: Dave's bow and arrow strike me as a heavy-handed, inescapably literary metaphor. It's meant to symbolize modern man's divorcement from his ancient role of hunter; Dave's destructive impulses and his final restoration of balance. Fair enough. But the symbol is so at odds with the film's carefully constructed milieu it feels precious and pretentious. How much more honest and appropriate, the incursion of Spongebob Squarepants in a hauntingly bittersweet last reel.
I hope The Weather Man finds a more accommodating climate in Britain than it did on home ground. Shrewd and honest and touching, it is, in Robert's words, 'quite an American accomplishment'.