David Spritz (Nicolas Cage, "Matchstick Men") has never attained the prestige and complete respect of his Pulitzer prize winning father (Michael Caine, "Batman Begins"), is hanging onto hopes of reuniting with his ex-wife Noreen (Hope Davis, "Proof") and trying to have meaningful relationships with his apathetic and troubled teenaged kids Mike (Nicholas Hoult, "About a Boy") and Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña, "Erin Brockovich"). He also is abused by a public who blame him for every misdiagnosis in his job as "The Weather Man."
Nicholas Cage gives a deeper reading while going on the opposite journey of Jack Campbell in 2000's "The Family Man" in this highly satisfying, beautifully written character study. Working from a script by Steve Conrad ("Wrestling Ernest Hemingway"), director Gore Verbinski ("Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl") beautifully balances every change in tone, orchestrating a film in which every aspect complements the whole. It's easily his best film to date.
In Conrad's world, the public's regard for its weather man directly correlates to his market share, so, although Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, it is not New York, the number one spot that can garner national audiences. Consequently Spritz (who changed his name from Spritzl to make it sound more meteorological) is often the target for tossed Frostys when his 'weekly Spritz nipper' proves inaccurate. Dave is pinning all his hopes on a possible shot at "Hello America" with Bryant Gumbel, thinking a move to the Big Apple will solve all, but it is in how he deals with his everyday crises that he will find himself redeemed, if not exactly in the ways he's wished for.
Conrad's writing is elegant, every cause and effect resonant yet natural. Dave chides his daughter for walking around without any money, gives her his, then finds himself in the same position every time his dad asks him to buy a coffee or newspaper. He tries to give overweight Shelly a purpose by indulging her desire to learn archery, a handy metaphor, but ends up taking up the sport himself when she gives up after one lesson. Dave has equal trouble connecting with Mike, but wins the boy back when the man Mike looks up to instead, his rehab councilor Don (Gil Bellows, TV's "Ally McBeal"), proves to be a threat not a friend. He is blind to his wife's barely concealed contempt and in trying to know her better drives her further away, but even Noreen recognizes something new in the way he tries to shield his kids from life's ugly abuses. Even Dave's lifelong attempt to measure up in his father's eyes is quietly and compassionately overcome, the ironic aftermath of Dave's derailed speech at his dad's living funeral.
Verbinski takes his sad cast of characters and achieves a richly rewarding and funny experience. Cage hasn't been this good in years, arcing his dejected anti-hero through a spiritual rebirth towards grace. Gazing up at the suburban Colonial he used to call home, Cage's bemused 'someone should be happy in this house' is a heartfelt appeal. Young de la Peña is also very good as a lumpen little girl who eventually blooms within her dad's belief in her and Hoult nails the wary adolescence of a fifteen year-old boy. Michael Caine gives a quiet, restrained performance, his patrician-like paternal figure concerned, his condescension subconscious. Only the usually terrific Hope Davis lacks here, falling into her stereotypical pinched harpy. Michael Rispoli ("Death to Smoochy") is fine as Russ, Noreen's boyfriend and Bellows insinuates the right amount of creepiness into his friendliness to make warning flags go up.
The film has visual flair (cinematography by Phedon Papamichael, "Sideways," production design by Tom Duffield, "The Ring"), opening on a frozen Lake Michigan with ice that looks like flower petals. Dave is foregrounded in several distinctive ways - 'conducting' a weather chart in front of a green screen, practicing archery in profile against a stark winter landscape and sitting in front of a hotel window as a giant Spongebob balloon drifts by. Montages are comical highlights of Dave's imagination when he free associates after his dad tells him Shelly's being name-called cameltoe or he reimagines forgotten tartar sauce as his marital downfall.
Funny, sad and endearing, "The Weather Man" is a terrific commercial movie that has both style and substance. Unlike the empty calories of a popcorn flick, this one will stick with you.
David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) is a veteran observer of Chicago’s weather and, as any predictor of the elements, often maligned by his TV viewing audience. He’s a short-list contender for the meteorologist job on the national morning show, “Hello America,” but a painful divorce, sick father and problem children also vie for his attention in “The Weatherman.”
David has a good job as a Chicago weather prognosticator but, when his predictions are wrong, his viewing audience lets him know - usually in the form of fast food thrown at him from moving vehicles accompanied by laughter and verbal abuse. He can put up with this kind of treatment knowing that he is a prime candidate to be weatherman on the national morning show. However, if he gets the job it would mean moving to New York City away from his estranged wife, Noreen (Hope Davis), with whom he wants to mend things. He also doesn’t want to give up seeing his overweight, low self-esteem daughter, Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena), and trouble-prone son, Mike (Nicholas Hoult). Plus, his dad, Robert Spritzel (Michael Caine), is terminally ill and David may not have much more time to be with him.
Nicolas Cage gives a full-bodied character study of David as a weatherman struggling with life on several fronts. He really believes that he can make things right with Noreen until she announces her relationship with Russ (Michael Rispoli). David resents the usurper of his family and makes no bones about his dislike for the man, driving a wedge even further between him and his ex. To make matters worse, he overcompensates his estrangement from his children and tries to be a full time father for Shelly and Mike, but, in all reality, cannot. And, he lives in the shadow of his eminent and successful father, who disdains David’s chosen field and, especially, changed last name.
Helmer Gore Verbinski has certainly proved to be an eclectic and varied filmmaker from the lighthearted Mousehunt” (1997) and sometimes-amusing “The Mexican” (2001), to the successful “The Ring” (2002) and the phenomenally profitable “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” In the midst of his production chores in the two “Pirates…” sequels, he has taken on the task of making a much smaller study of a man at a crisis point in his life. With his key player, Cage, and a solid supporting cast, Verbinski succeeds in this endeavor, showing a talent for satire and, sometimes, whimsy in “The Weatherman.”
Nicolas Cage is the perfect choice to play David Spritz. The actor conveys the TV persona as the Chicago weatherman with his smile and assured (though sometimes woefully wrong) predictions. But where he excels is as the troubled ex-husband/father who wants to get back his past, happier days when his family was together and his father was fit. Cage’s David struggles, both inwardly and outwardly, with the cards life has dealt them, even if they were of his own dealing. The actor has you rooting for Spritz even through his obsessive moments.
The supporting cast is nicely populated and the players, all, give full dimension to their characters. Michael Caine’s Robert may disdain his son’s career and the state of his relationship with his family but it is out of love for his son that he feels this way, especially through his terminal illness. Hope Davis has the tough job as the ex-wife but does her best to make Noreen believable, if shrill. She wants what’s best for David but can’t and won’t return to the old days that ended in divorce. She is making a new life for herself but really wants her ex to still be a part of it, for the kids’ sake. Gemmenne de la Pena, as Shelly, pulls off the troubled teen role where she wants the praise and support of her dad but palpably feels his want to change her into something she is not. Nicholas Hoult, transplanted from his English homeland (“About a Boy”), does a fine job as an American teenager, with all the baggage that entails but his character is less fully drawn than the rest.
Production is first-rate across the board. Verbinski has a solid script, by Steve Conrad, to work with and makes the Chicago locale one of the characters in this study. Veteran lenser Phedon Papamichael uses the Windy City to good effect and production designer Tom Duffield keeps the look varied and conveys the cold winter’s chill of Chicago.
Some are seeing this to be a contender for award consideration for “The Weatherman’s” Oscar-winning star, Cage. This may be true – although the actor has a real fight on his hands with the competition of Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”) and David Strathairn (“Good Night, and Good Luck”). Whatever the case may be, the film is wry and entertaining with good performances, good looks and solid direction. I give it a B.
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