The Weather Man (2005)

Directed by Gore Verbinski

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The Weather Man is about Dave Spritz’s (Nicolas Cage) general disaffection with life, both personal and professional, and his plan to escape through a “very American accomplishment,” to become the national weatherman on “Hello America,” a program very much meant to resemble “Good Morning America” or “The Today Show.”

Dave is already wealthy, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, as a weather man in Chicago.  He admits, through narration (a device through which he makes it clear just how lost and confused he is), that his job is easy and he’s probably paid too much to do it.  He’s a weatherman, after all, who doesn’t have a meteorology degree, instead one in Communications.  Describing the weather is easy, but he fancies himself a weather prognosticator, and when he’s wrong, well it seems it tends to rub people the wrong way.

The entire film takes place in the heart of winter.  It seems less like a natural weather pattern, in fact, than it does the icy manifestation of Dave’s own being, as if his general depression has infected the entire city.  This would help explain the antagonism he feels from those around him, both the ones who gleefully throw fast food his way in public and those who initially approach him with kindness but respond to his elusiveness with anger.

The important characters in Dave’s life are an ex-wife, Noreen (Hope Davis), two kids, Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena) and Mike (Nicholas Hoult), as well as his father, Robert (Michael Caine), a successful writer who seems positively perplexed by all the happenings in Dave’s life.

Though they have their own inner lives, in the context of this story they represent the symptoms and, presumably, sources of Dave’s own dissatisfaction.  He will try to win Noreen back, but it’s clear to the audience from the start that this is a delusion rather than a goal.  He similarly tries to earn his father’s respect, even dabbling in fiction writing like the old man, but for much of the film this too feels like it’s going nowhere.  His father is instead more concerned with, or possibly just fascinated by, the trials and tribulations of Dave’s children, who both find themselves going through hostile, uncomfortable situations that are handled with a remarkable sense of dark comedy.

Shelly, like Dave, is disaffected and hostile, cursing and complaining, having adopted such behavior straight from her father.  She hints at an interest in archery but later explains it was only because she wanted to shoot animals.  In other moments of the film we see her flatly lie to her father, using his money to buy cigarettes and, with no clear intonation, agree with her friend that a classmate is a “cunt.”  In another moment she overhears her parents talking about blowjobs and doesn’t bat an eye, and then later we watch her explain to her horrified father why kids at school call her “camel toe” and what she thinks that means.  

For Mike, well he’s slowly being lured in by a sexual predator, a conflict we can see coming from a mile away but which the fifteen year-old boy is clueless to.  Dave and Noreen are oblivious to the boy’s relationship with a drug counselor (he was once in rehab) until the man makes a pass at Mike.

These are some extreme problems (added into the mix is that Robert learns that he has lymphoma), but based on the framing of the film as a whole, it seems like the result of Dave’s own delusions and lack of introspection.  

Throughout all of these little forest fires he holds onto hope, in the form of a possible job opportunity at Hello America.  No one else seems to care much for the position other than that it makes Dave happy, and they wish him well.  The salary doesn’t impress his wife, and his father is turned off by the idea that he will have to advertise for corporate sponsors like Purina.  Still, Dave clings to this hope because he needs to.  He is at once able to see that something in his life has gone wrong (his narration observes his own sadness and the wrong turns he has made) and completely unaware that this Hello America job won’t solve it.  It is instead, as his father notes, just an “American accomplishment,” an empty occupation (as presented in this movie) that comes with status.  You get the idea that an American director might not have the same point of view, but I suppose that’s why so many great movies about America come from people outside of America (example being Louis Malle’s documentaries God’s Country and …And the Pursuit of Happiness).

The film is very funny, at least I think it is.  There are a number of moments in which Robert discusses the vulgar goings-on around him with a devastating lack of personality.  He is like the Peter Sellers character in Being There, curious about “camel toe,” dildoes, pedophilia and Purina dog chow without judging them.  He asks about such things like you would ask someone about the Dow Jones.  

In contrast, Dave is wild and over the top in ways many Nicolas Cage characters are.  He’s losing his mind and acting out like a rescued dog who, despite being friendly, will snap at you if approached at just the right angle.  He’s fighting his instincts to attack those around him, mostly verbally but sometimes physically, and his attempts at love and affection are understandably rebuffed because of such abuse.  Dave earns some of our sympathy, I reason, because in narration he explains that he doesn’t know why he does what he does.  He’s an adult with his own sense of agency, but he’s also the product of impulses born within him due to circumstances that long preceded him.  He is the result of a stoic, emotionless father and a country which values more than anything the altitude of your penthouse and number of syllables in your job title.  

So Dave is a strange, sympathetic anti-hero.  He’s the most vulgar, unhinged character of the film, but I think we are meant to recognize the forces that have transformed him thusly.  He’s found himself deep in a hole from which he doesn’t know how to emerge other than to dig deeper.  Then, by the end, he figures out a way to climb up to the surface.

Up Next: The Palm Beach Story (1942), The Legend of Cocaine Island (2018), 3 Faces (2018)

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