The Weather Man
Directed by Gore Verbinski

Written by Steven Conrad

Starring Nicolas Cage, Hope Davis, Michael Caine



The Weather Man

There are films we can call novelistic, rather than cinematic, because of their focus on character and relationships rather than plot and action. Even though their stories are told through the lens of the camera and the sequence of edited shots, they reach us - if they do - through our understanding of the people we come to know in the films, and the insights we gain through our own response to them.

By no means does this imply that a film of a novel automatically qualifies; a potboiler is a potboiler. But I can suggest two successful examples of novelistic films for you: one would be "Igby Goes Down," Burr Steers's 2002 portrait of a teenage boy confronting life as an adult; and, let me shock you, the monumental, action-filled "Godfather Part I," in which every act and plot moment in the film grows organically out of the personalities of the people in it, whom the filmmakers have been at pains to let us know and understand.

Now a strange new film, "The Weather Man," is out in theatres this fall, and although I think it a failure, it is as bold about its portrait of a failed man as we're likely to see. Nicolas Cage (who looks like he's joined Hair Club for Men) is David Spritz, the weather man on a Chicago television station. He makes a fine living ($240,000 a year plus appearances, he tells us) because he can wave his arms in front of the bluescreen and smile winningly as he describes what's coming down from Canada. But in every other way he is a failure. His marriage to Noreen (Hope Davis) has ended and she is involved with a new man; his overweight 12-year-old daughter is tormented at school and now sneaks cigarettes. His 15-year-old son is in an alcohol drug rehab program under the tutelage of a molester. David's father (Michael Caine) is a legendary novelist whose attempts at communicating with David never seem to get through.

No doubt the name Spritz was chosen ironically, as we see Chicagoans periodically throw things at David on the street: Slurpees, tacos, Big Shakes, and the like; he's come to accept it, but sublimates his rage by fantasizing a restoration of his marriage and a rapport with his kids. But everything he does turns to ashes, and he cannot see where he needs to go.

And here is where the film fails: David tries and stumbles, tries and stumbles, tries and stumbles. Even though he ends up getting a national TV gig in New York (at a million dollars a year) he is still the same person he was when we met him, still waving his arms, commuting back to Chicago on weekends, still not having moved off the spot he seems to have been nailed to at the beginning of the film. This is a portrait without an epiphany or even a defining moment. David's depression is so severe and all-consuming that it consumes us as well. He is a desperate man, desperate to grow, to learn, to understand; but bound to fail at each of those things. No matter what he achieves in his work, it will never help him change; that is the tragedy of his life and the failure of the film.

I think Cage has done a fine job of capturing the person of David; he is not looking over David's shoulders at us, as if to say "This isn't really me." And Hope Davis is once again a miraculous actor; with few words and little screen time she gives us a wonderfully rounded portrait of a woman who's finally found a way to grow and take charge of her life. Michael Caine, as David's father, must deal with an underwritten part; he's little more than the voice of maturity here, but as always he commands the screen whenever he's on it. The two children are also fine; sullen, hurt, hopeful. But all of them have been let down by a script that is determined to stay on the dark side.