Scattered Dour

The Weather Man, starring Nicolas Cage as a disappointment of a son and a failure of a father, was screened for critics in the spring, before its April release was pushed to October, ostensibly to allow for the off chance that Cage or Michael Caine (as Cage’s father) might be nominated for Academy Awards. But those who saw the movie months ago speculated that the reason for its delay was altogether different: Paramount had absolutely no idea how to sell the thing. It has the dour, dark sensibility of an art-house resident but the budget of a wide release. Perhaps the studio held up its release in order to better market it — a theory borne out by the current ad campaign, which pitches The Weather Man as light, wacky and uplifting. In other words, it’s being sold as something for everyone, which is selling it short.

In truth, it’s brooding, dark and contemplative — a reluctant comedy about failure and fear, about living up to expectations and letting down loved ones. There is redemption somewhere in here, and even the suggestion that success will not completely elude weatherman Dave Spritz (Cage), but writer Steve Conrad and director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) are less interested in peeks of sunshine than in downpours. Dave may win a few, but he’s a regret in the lives of those who know and have tried to love him: his father, Robert (Caine), a revered author who set an example to which the son foolishly aspired; his wife Noreen (Hope Davis), a keeper of a dark secret who left him for a good man and a better life; his son, Mike (Nicholas Hoult); and his overweight daughter, Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña).

Dave knows he’s a fraud, and he wants only to impress his father, win back his wife and save his children — all of which he believes he can accomplish by winning a morning-TV gig on a show hosted by Bryant Gumbel. He thinks he can fix everything, but it’s an impossible task. He can’t even dodge the fast food hurled at him by passers-by who consider him a joke and a phony; his clothes are always dripping something greasy and sticky.

Overplaying downheartedness has become Cage’s act now; the man mopes more than a 2-year-old who doesn’t get cake and ice cream for dinner. Once a manic maker of light comedy, he seems to have turned entirely inward. Here, Cage recalls roles he’s played in Leaving Las Vegas, The Family Man, and Adaptation, and he finds the perfect balance between hope and giving up. It’s the smallest role Cage has ever played, the below-average man.

Cage, the splendid Caine, Davis and the kids are all perfect in a movie about imperfect people trying their best and usually doing their worst. But this is hardly the point. The Weather Man is not the wacky movie Paramount is selling, nor is it cynical Oscar bait. It’s a little movie about little people trying not to get wet or freeze to death or get burned when they walk outside. Good luck with all that.

Categories: Movies