Weather Man, The (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Reaction to The Weather Man may depend upon an individual's ability to tolerate spending 100 minutes in the company of an unpleasant protagonist. There's no doubt this can be an uncomfortable experience, but it can also be rewarding for those who are willing to endure the discomfort. The Weather Man is a meticulously developed character piece about a man whose personal life is in crisis while his professional life is soaring. If you don't believe in the axiom that "success can't buy happiness," director Gore Verbinski is using this opportunity to convince you otherwise. The only negative in evidence is an unnecessarily verbose, and sometimes intrusive, voiceover by Nicolas Cage. Half of what he says could be eliminated without doing any damage to the story.

Motion pictures don't have a high opinion of weather men. From the cynical opportunist played by Bill Murray in Groundhog Day to the vacuum headed character essayed by Steve Carell in Anchorman, on-air meteorologists are targets for satire and derision. The Weather Man doesn't really change that, but at least it takes its subject and subject matter seriously. David Spritz (Cage), the pride of Chicago's Channel 6, is as clueless about where the winds are blowing his personal life as he is about where they are blowing the next storm system. By his own admission, David only has a job - and a chance at a position on a national morning show - because he knows how to work a green screen. Other talents, such as the ability to accurately predict the weather, are irrelevant. If you watch the local news, you know the kind of weatherguy David is: a personality without a meteorology degree, he takes credit for the good predictions and distances himself from the bad ones. Maybe that's why people throw things at him (fast food, sodas) when they see him on the street.

The networks love him, which is odd, because he can't stand himself. A warning to those who don't like movies that indulge a character's self-pity: The Weather Man isn't for you. Because the movie is presented from David's point-of-view, and he has a low opinion of himself, this turns into a feel-bad experience. But it's never uninteresting. That's because the characters, irrespective of being flawed, are complex, and the acting is strong. Plenty of movies offer uplifting plotlines. It's refreshing to find one that doesn't feel the need to conform (although one could make the case that it offers an optimistic conclusion).

David's marriage has collapsed. His kids have problems - Mike (Nicholas Hoult) is fresh out of rehab for drug addiction, and Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena) lacks self-esteem - and his inability to trust torpedoes his slim chance of reconnecting with his ex-wife, Noreen (Hope Davis). Meanwhile, his famous father, Robert (Michael Caine), is dying of lymphoma. Cancer, it seems, doesn't spare those who have won the Pulitzer Prize. When it comes time to deliver a eulogy at Robert's "living funeral" (a gathering that occurs while a terminally ill individual is still alive), he gets no further than mentioning Bob Seger's "Like a Rock," before the power goes out.

It is to Verbinski and screenwriter Steve Conrad's credit that they avoid the temptation to soften the edges of David's character. Making him more likeable would have turned The Weather Man into a mushy melodrama. The film's central conceit - that a man's professional and personal lives can be moving in opposite directions - would have been blunted. Plus, it's not as if David lacks redeeming qualities. He cares about his children and craves his father's love and respect (which he never gets). He's just unlucky and has a talent for saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Compared to Cage's character in Leaving Las Vegas, David is a teddy bear.

At times, The Weather Man shows a propensity for black humor. Most of the jokes aren't laugh-aloud funny but they are incisive. The screenplay is smarter than some viewers will give it credit for, and it's hard to find fault with the actors. Cage is a popular whipping boy for critics, but he nails David's hang-dog mood and successfully transforms him into a charismatic personality when the red light of the camera is on. The only thing wrong with Michael Caine is that he never sounds quite right with an American accent. Taking a break between installments of his Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Verbinski has given us a small, thoughtful motion picture whose persistent negativity may make it a difficult sell for mainstream audiences.

Weather Man, The (United States, 2005)

Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis, Gemmenne de la Pena, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Rispoli, Gil Bellows
Screenplay: Steve Conrad
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
Music: Hans Zimmer
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 1:41
U.S. Release Date: 2005-10-28
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1