The Weather Man (2005)

screenshot from The Weather Man

Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Screenwriter(s): Steve Conrad
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis, Gemmenne de la Peña, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Rispoli, Gil Bellows, Judith McConnell
Genre: Drama / Comedy
Country: USA / GER
Running time: 1h 42m
Rating: 6 out of 10

Gore Verbinski directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, plus one good Johnny Depp movie (Rango, for which he also has a story credit) and one really awful one (The Lone Ranger). Nicolas Cage is, well, Nicolas Cage, who racks up awful but presumably well-paid movies like only a man with massive debts can. The thought that either one of them would choose a downbeat character study about mid-life crisis seems inconceivable. And, yet, here it is.

Dave Spritz (Cage) is a pretty well-paid weather man in Chicago. Via the gift of voiceover, he admits himself that his job only takes a couple of hours out of his day, and that he leaves most of the weather stuff to his researcher and the internet. He’s changed his name from Spritzel to Spritz to seem more ‘weather-y’. He’s divorced and his two children have serious problems: his daughter is obese and depressed; his son is in drugs counselling. His ex-wife (Davis) can’t stand him and doesn’t trust him. Although he sees his father (Caine) often, their relationship is equally fractured, with each failing to comprehend the other. Random passers-by throw junk food at him. Despite all of this, he is being courted by ‘Hello America with Bryant Gumble’ to be their weather man, with a massive increase in both exposure and salary.

And this is essentially the film.

The main relationships we see are with Robert (Caine, bringing a lot of dignity to a man who is being conquered by ageing and his own mortality) and his daughter, Shelly (a very good child performance from de la Peña). Hoult (best known from the X-Men films) also does good work as the son who is being obviously groomed by his drugs counsellor (Bellows). Hope Davis is a reliably good actor, but her part is sketchy at best. It’s not even clear if she has any sort of job, or whether Dave’s six-figure salary is supporting his palatial apartment and the massive family home. It’s hard to say what his relationship with his mother (McConnell) is like, because hers is mostly a non-speaking role. In fact, women are not well-served in this movie at all. They hardly exist except to vex Dave because this is a film about male existentialism.

Dave, it is fair to say, is a not a good or a fun person. And he knows this about himself. And, yet, he doesn’t. He talks about his failures, but he doesn’t acknowledge or correct them. Everything he does to try to improve each of these relationships and his own sense of self-worth is almost eye-wateringly wrong and embarrassing. He takes his father, Pullitzer-Prize-winning novellist, Robert, to all of his hospital appointments, yet spectacularly fails to do the bare minimum of care-giving, such as buying his father a newspaper or a coffee because Dave, like the queen, doesn’t bother to carry cash. The film does not explain why there are no cash machines near a major city hospital surrounded by fast-food establishments or, in 2005, why nowhere seems to take credit cards, but the lack of small change is all part of the wider message of the film that Dave doesn’t care enough about anyone other than himself to do the little things. Even his attempt to engage with his daughter by teaching her archery results in Dave taking up archery himself, because Dave is ultimately all about Dave.

Chicago and the weather itself are also major characters, the cut scenes of a long Chicago winter overlaying Dave’s own frozen nature. Like the ice, Dave is numb and dumb. And Chicago looks glorious because the film is beautifully shot and framed, but the overall result remains cold, too. As a display of acting talent, the film succeeds splendidly. The main performances are so good that you get sucked into watching, even though parts of the story don’t make much sense, and it treats paedophilia as a plot device, with way too much emphasis on showing off the half-naked form of Hoult in a way that is deeply unsettling and not required at all. And Cage does remind you that he can act. Voiceover is something which can divide audiences, but Cage’s downbeat delivery keeps things moving, even if it’s used too often to do a lot of telling rather than letting the characters’ actions do the showing.

It’s a curiosity which fails to live up to its promise because it meanders without resolution, lacking in heart or warmth. You do not come away from the experience truly caring about any of these characters, even if it’s interesting enough to watch them for a while.