Did you ever have one of those days, years, lives where nothing seems to work out the way you planned? You hate your job. Your wife and kids hate you. And wherever you go, strangers hurl fast-food leftovers ' Big Gulps, Slurpees, McShakes ' at you. Actually, this last little piece of hell is peculiar to David Spritz, a.k.a. The Weather Man. Paid a ridiculous amount of money to pretend he knows what an isobar is, Spritz is a celebrity in the meteorologically rambunctious Chicago. But there's an undercurrent of resentment in the public's reaction to him. Yes, they want his autograph, but they also want him to eat shit and die. And it's taken a toll. Spritz knows he's a clown. He just doesn't know how to keep the pies from landing in his face.
To say this is a role Nicolas Cage was born to play is to ignore the years he's spent refining that hangdog expression, that world-weary slouch, that just-shoot-me line delivery. Spritz turns on when the camera does, waving his arms around like a toreador, but the rest of his life is overcast, with a 100% chance of self-doubt, self-loathing, sadness verging on madness. And Cage admirably refuses to indulge in theatrics, just rides out the depression, one bump at a time. The movie itself seems depressed, shot in myriad shades of gray, the rain and sleet pelting the screen. And some people may lose patience with it. But if you happen to be going through a midlife crisis, you may enjoy handing over the reins to someone else for a while.
Actually, it's not entirely clear that Spritz is going through a midlife crisis. It may be a lifelong funk instead. His father, nicely underplayed by Michael Caine, was a nationally prominent writer by his early 30s, and no matter how well you predict the weather, you're going to have trouble topping that. To make matters worse, Spritz is lousy at predicting the weather, not being a meteorologist. And one of the things he has to learn is that the weather, like life, is unpredictable. Who would have predicted that his kids would turn out so sullen? Who would have predicted that his job, which requires two hours of work a day for an annual salary of $240,000, would be so unfulfilling? When did his sunny disposition turn so cloudy?
At times, The Weather Man reminded me of this poster I once saw of a guy standing under a tree branch, looking up at a bird and saying "Go ahead, everybody else does." The whole world seems to dump on Spritz. And I wonder whether the movie doesn't get away from director Gore Verbinski and scriptwriter Steven Conrad a little bit. Take the Michael Caine character. We're told that not only is he a great writer, he's always been a great father. But everything he says to his son seems laced with disappointment and disapproval. And take Spritz's estranged wife, portrayed by Hope Davis with her usual cold snap. What are we supposed to make of it when she reveals how disgusted she's found her husband for years? Exactly who's responsible for Spritz's lack of spritz?
We're all responsible for ourselves, of course, and one of the nice things about The Weather Man is that it doesn't let Spritz off the hook. He has to find his own way through the fog, which involves accepting both who he is and who he isn't. It perhaps wasn't necessary for him to take up archery, splitting the ice crusted onto a wintry bull's-eye, to get this point across, but how many movies forswear a great big happy ending for the more pedestrian rewards of simply getting one's life back on track? That's what makes The Weather Man, despite its low-pressure systems and dire forecasts, so refreshing. Everybody talks about the weather. Spritz finally realizes that, no matter how hard we try, there isn't a damn thing we can do about it.