The Weather Man is not a conventional movie. Strange and unrelenting in it's determination to remain downbeat, it brings weatherman David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) to life at arm's length, almost as if he's a fly under a microscope. Yet while the movie seems busy keeping its distance, Nicolas Cage's wry narration draws us to him, opens him up to us, adds emotion and humor into an otherwise cold film.
Spritz is good at his job, but finds no satisfaction in it. He's a weatherman, but not a meteorologist and thus spends only about two hours a day doing actual work. The rest of the time he stands by the water cooler, looking awkward and unimpressive while the real meteorologist figures out what Dave is supposed to say. But when he's on camera, he comes to life. Dave has skill, and his career is going places. That doesn't do much for him. Instead, he wonders whether he's anything other than a clown.
Sometimes people throw things at David. A taco, a soda pop. We don't know why they do it and neither does he, but it's just a symptom of how badly his life has gone wrong. His father (Michael Caine), whose approval he desperately craves, watches his sad sack son with quiet disappointment. David's own family has already fallen to pieces. He's divorced, his daughter is dangerously unhappy and overweight, his fifteen-year-old son has just gotten out of rehab. Don't worry, it was only pot.
The result of all this piling on is the world's first melancholy comedy. Weather Man is a wintry mix of soft, flaky chuckles and blistering depression. The jokes and the misery play off one another, amplified by the contrast between them. The icy cityscape of Chicago only echoes David's desperate depression. For him, it's not a happy place to be, but at some point his unhappiness becomes so profound it intentionally approaches funny.
What's surprising is that even while we're laughing at David, that doesn't mean we aren't crying with him as well. The distance director Gore Verbinski keeps between the movie and his audience makes it possible to laugh at Spritz, but Cage's heartfelt performance still carries us right along with him.
For me, what is most striking is how profound David's epiphanies are. How well they ring utterly true. There's a moment at the end of the film where he examines the person he's become, breaking it down by the way he's aged through the years and seeing the possibilities of who he could have been slip away, until the only possible person left is the man he now is. David Spritz is not the man he thought he'd be. Like all of us, when he envisioned the man he could become as a kid, considered the kinds of qualities he thought he'd like to possess, the picture he had was nothing like the reality he's ended up with. The Weather Man is nothing like you'd expect, but following Verbinski's film as it sheds the possibilities is a unique and special event.
It's not a masterpiece (we could have done without the creepy pedophile subplot involving David's son) and the constant dejection may be a bit much for some, but The Weather Man is destined to hang around in your consciousness once you see it. This is a small, intimate, deeply personal movie. Unfortunately, it's the kind of pic that may not catch on right away, in part because it is disinterested in going for anything obviously crowd pleasing. Forget quick and easy gratification. Verbinski's looking for something different from that run of the mill dreck. Whether or not it does well in the short term, given a few years The Weather Man's sardonic humor and eccentric, off-beat sensibility ought to make it an underground hit.