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Weather Man, The (2005) Print E-mail
Friday, 28 October 2005
I have to feel sympathy for Nicolas Cage and Gore Verbinski, the star and director of “The Weather Man.” Paramount’s trailers feature Cage getting whopped by all manner of thrown fast food, strongly suggesting—even insisting—that the movie is a wacky comedy full of slapstick. This is so misleading someone might be able to mount a class action suit for false advertising.

Yes, the movie is partly a comedy, and yes, Cage does occasionally find himself the target of flung fast food. But that’s the only slapstick in the film, which is as much a drama as it is a comedy. It doesn’t quite work in the intended manner, but it’s well-written. The characters, even Cage’s, are somewhat thinly drawn, and stories of this nature have been told before. But if you get in step with its somewhat pokey rhythm, it’s a rewarding film.

Cage is Dave Spritz, a TV weatherman in Chicago. He’s well-known around town, but tends to get irked when asked for his autograph. His problem is that he doesn’t clearly understand his job, and is all too aware that it doesn’t take a lot of brains or very much talent to stand in front of a green screen, smile at the camera, and gesture to show changing weather patterns. He’s also paid quite well—about a quarter million a year—which embarrasses him slightly. He doesn’t even really know very much about weather, and when he asks people who do, he doesn’t really grasp what they’re talking about.

But he’s actually pretty good at his job. We see one pair of people (and only them) watching his show; the husband grunts that Dave looks like an asshole, while the wife admires his charming smile. (Which tends to look just a shade forced, tending toward panicky.) He’s had an offer from a network morning show in New York (hosted by Bryant Gumbel, who turns up a couple of times) which would mean a very large boost in salary. But he’s edgy about it, not just because he doesn’t really have a good grip on his value to the world, but because his marriage recently fell apart. Furthermore, his father, Robert Spritzel (Michael Caine), is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, world famous (we see a photo of young Caine with Noel Coward), but there’s something of an estrangement between father and son, though Robert does try to stay involved with Dave’s family.

Which has undergone some major changes. He’s moved out of his family home, leaving behind wife Noreen (Hope Davis), teenage son Mike (Nicholas Hoult) and pudgy younger daughter Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña). The marriage is definitely over as far as Noreen is concerned, and she’s seeing Russ (Michael Rispoli), who has a pretty good relationship with both children. Dave sees the kids on weekends, but is so unsure about everything that he doesn’t have a good relationship with either one. (It’s never quite clear if Dave and Noreen are divorced.) He hopes that the pay increase for the New York show, should he land the job, would lure Noreen back, and that she and the children would move to New York with him.
Cage, who intermittently narrates as Dave, is outrageously self-centered, but essentially unaware of this. It’s caused most of his problems, but at first he shows no signs of realizing that he has to change. He’s so absorbed in himself that even though he drives Robert to several doctor appointments, he doesn’t pay very much attention to his father’s medical problems—even when Robert says they’re very serious.

Dave can’t seem to find his footing. He tries to relate to Shelly by quickly responding to her saying she might be interested in archery. It turns out she’s really not—but almost accidentally, Dave himself becomes an archer, often walking around downtown Chicago (and at one point, New York) with a bow in one hand and a quiver on his back. But he has more luck when Robert, who’s been concerned about Shelly’s overweight condition, says he heard some school kids calling her “camel toe,” because she wears inappropriately tight (and too casual) jeans so tight they reveal her vaginal cleft. (A camel has two large toes separated by a cleft.)

Shelly and Robert accompany Dave to New York to audition for the Bryant Gumbel show (and for Robert to see another specialist). Dave buys Shelly some very nice skirts and other clothes, then tentatively mentions “camel toe” to her. Yes, she says she’s been called that—and considers it a compliment. Camels, she says, have very tough toes for treading over hot sand and broken rock, and she considers herself tough, too. (And wonders why they don’t make tires out of camel toes.)

Gradually, almost imperceptibly, Dave begins to wise up. (Good thing, or there wouldn’t be any point to the movie.) Mike has had a few minor drug problems; though he’s past that, he’s still seeing a counselor (Gil Bellows), who we—but not Mike—realize has seduction plans in mind. Writer/Co-producer Steven Conrad is to be congratulated for keeping all this very subtle, and never really painting the counselor as a predatory villain. But he does cross a line, and the movie does not let him off lightly.

“The Weather Man” is not a very strong movie; though it’s from a major studio (Warner Bros.) it wants to be a small, realistic film like “About Schmidt” or “Sideways,” but it’s not quite up to the task. It’s a little too schematic, and after a while we get somewhat weary of Cage’s perpetual hangdog expressions. There’s a good share of strong language—mostly the F word—which is harmless in itself, but also seems to be the only reason the film was rated R rather than PG-13.

The cast is uniformly fine, including the two children, but Caine and Cage are particularly good, especially in their last scene together, when Dave explains why he referred to a particular song in a truncated speech he gave about his Robert. It’s surprisingly tender and moving, with Caine again effortlessly (or so it seems) demonstrating why he’s one of the best actors in movies.

I don’t know if Hans Zimmer, director Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) or some other parties were responsible for a very irritating, very frequent odd element of the sound track. Every now and then there’s a rapid pattering sound, like the tail of a reel of film slapping against the projector. It’s pointless and intrusive, although it does shade into the music track.

Verbinski and Cage insisted that the film be shot on Chicago locations rather than the Canadian locations the studio was hoping for. They made the right decision; Chicago does have a specific look, and the film largely captures it, even without the El or the rivers. It’s mostly set in a bleak winter, complete with snow and occasional rain, which gives the movie a not inappropriate slightly gloomy mood.

The script (and Cage) can’t make Dave as interesting as he’s clearly intended to be; he seems whiny and irritable more than wistful and clueless. But Cage is still likeable enough that the movie is pleasant and entertaining throughout. Just don’t expect miracles—don’t expect “Sideways”—and you’re likely to enjoy “The Weather Man.”

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