[box cover]

The Weather Man

What did audiences expect from The Weather Man? Apparently not what they got. Despite the fact that it's one of the most remarkable, unusual, genre-free films in recent memory, it generated a mere $12 million during a middling one-month theatrical run in November 2005, and even the star wattage of Nicolas Cage couldn't rescue it from the box-office cellar. Then again, while Cage arguably is the finest actor of his generation, as well as a bankable marquee draw, he's built a reputation as a player who only takes on work that interests him, and if such titles as Con Air and Face/Off mark his commercial instincts, he's also fed his Method muse with turns in Vampire's Kiss and Leaving Las Vegas. Gore Verbinski's The Weather Man came on the heels of three notable Cage projects — Adaptation, Matchstick Men, and National Treasure — a trio that reinforced his A-list viability. One can only conclude then that The Weather Man represented an actorly need to change gears, not only in seeking out interesting work, but also to avoid typecasting — much how Cage shunned his Oscar accolades in the wake Leaving Las Vegas by looking up Jerry Bruckheimer, or followed his darker work in Wild at Heart and Red Rock West with his own self-described "Sunshine Trilogy," which included the breezy It Could Happen to You. And the sun hasn't even begun to set on the most prominent member of the Coppola clan — barely past 40 in 2005, Nicolas Cage has decades of film work in front of him. But even more crucially, he will continue to work simply because he embodies a quality that's rarely found in Hollywood's stratosphere: His personal choices have little to do with box-office figures.

Cage stars in The Weather Man as David Spritz, a Chicago television weatherman who finds himself at a crossroads in life. Recently separated from his wife Noreen (Hope Davis), he's at loose ends, both over his damaged marriage and his dead-end job. Then again, it's a better dead-end than most, earning him a comfortable $240,000 a year for a few hours of work a day. But it doesn't satisfy his need for… something. Perhaps it has something to do with his father, legendary novelist Robert King Spritzel (Michael Caine), a "national treasure" and a pretty good dad, but recently diagnosed with cancer. Despite David's attempt to write his own novel (aptly titled Breaking Point), it seems he's trying too hard to earn his father's respect, not content to merely accept his love. David's relationship with his own children is equally flawed — he finds it difficult to bond with his overweight, unmotivated 12-year-old daughter Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña), and while he tries to support his teenage son Mike's (Nicholas Hoult) photography hobby, he's not near enough to the boy's daily routines to realize that his drug counselor (Gil Bellows) is a sexual predator. Meanwhile, Noreen has taken up with a new, more stable man (Michael Rispoli). In the midst of it all, David can't help but go after a potential job on a national TV show hosted by Bryant Gumbel — it would mean relocating his family to New York, but then again, $1 million a year "buys a lot of face-time."

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Count The Weather Man as yet another casualty of Hollywood's penchant for misleading advertising. Rather than positioning the film as a contender in at least a few year-end awards categories with appropriate studio support, the trailer (found on the DVD) pretty much sums it up — the picture's solemn, comic pathos is completely set aside, replaced with a lot of slapstick moments (here, apropos of nothing) and the suggestion of feel-good dramedy. The problem is that The Weather Man doesn't have a happy, poignant ending, but instead a realistic, usable one. Which also happens to be the point. Unfortunately, the movie suffered the double-curse of mixed reviews and word-of-mouth that amounted to "not as funny as we thought it would be." It's a perfect storm, but with a predictable resolution, because time (and home video) doubtless will mark this low-profile effort as one of the better overlooked films of the past several years. Dark and somber, The Weather Man also is, in fact, "funny," but not in ways that are readily apparent. There are some outright amusing moments (Cage's adolescent interior monologue while going out for fast-food being one example); the rest simply requires getting on scenarist Steve Conrad's particular wavelength. Like Wes Anderson's scripts, a darkness informs fragile familial relationships, and when the humor comes from a moment that's particularly raw, we understand that some things that are "funny" aren't always free, but instead have some sort of emotional cost. Conrad almost wants to keep his audience at arm's length, both by testing our sympathy with David's self-centeredness, and also with a lot of casual, coarse R-rated dialogue (which also becomes funny, and quotable, upon subsequent viewings). The Weather Man marks a good turn for director Gore Verbinksi, who emerged from directing commercials to helming Pirates of the Caribbean, but here proves that he can handle both Conrad's script and a nuanced leading performance by Nicolas Cage, and the trio manage to commit perhaps the worst offense in all of Hollywood — they aren't trying to be cute. At all. There is something very human going on in The Weather Man. The story may offer loose threads and untidy moments, but such only contributes to a moving account of the American Dream gone quietly adrift at the start of mid-life, when the hard part is supposed to be over, but rarely is.

Paramount's DVD release of The Weather Man offers a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Extras include the featurettes "Extending the Outlook: The Script" (10 min.), "Forecast: Becoming a Weatherman" (5 min.), "Atmospheric Pressure: The Style and Palette" (9 min.), "Relative Humidity: The Characters" (19 min.), and "Trade Winds: The Collaboration" (15 min.), and that theatrical trailer, hopefully for instructional purposes. Keep-case.

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