Behold, Mediocrity

Cage simmers as The Weather Man scorches the American dream

At first glance—all ice floes on Lake Michigan and snow-covered suburban lawns—director Gore Verbinski's latest, The Weather Man, appears to be one of those frigid studies in the sufferings of the white upper-middle class. It is and it isn't. As the weatherman for a Chicago network affiliate, David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) has risen to the top of his profession. Off camera, Spritz's life is a chronology of failures. He's long dwelt in the shadow of his novelist father (Michael Caine), who won the National Book Award at 28 and now lies dying of lymphoma. He's watched his marriage to a good, loving woman (Hope Davis, who instantly humanizes every scene she appears in) fall apart before his eyes. And he's a stranger to his two adolescent kids—an overweight daughter (Gemmenne de la Peña) taunted by middle school cruelties, and a son (About a Boy star Nicholas Hoult) who's just gone through rehab.

Like American Beauty—to which it will inevitably be compared—The Weather Man positions itself as a critique of success and happiness in the land of the free, trafficking in the oft-plied idea that one needn't scratch too hard at that façade of tree-lined streets, two-car garages and soccer moms to reveal the festering sores beneath. But The Weather Man, which was written by Steven Conrad (Wrestling Ernest Hemingway), cuts far closer to the bone of American discontentment than Alan Ball and Sam Mendes' grotesque, comic-strip satire. That movie's Lester Burnham was an overworked and under-appreciated Everyman; David Spritz is a Musilian man-without-qualities, a shallow cipher acutely aware of his own shallowness. (He doesn't even predict the weather; he just reads it.) And in a radical departure from the Hollywood norm, the movie doesn't set out to redeem him. If anything, it's a movie about Spritz coming to embrace his own mediocrity.

Conrad's otherwise smart script makes too much of a recurring gag that sees Spritz pelted with angry viewers' discarded food items, and it can't quite resist some vapid, meaning-of-life platitudinizing toward the end. (Here, instead of American Beauty's "the most beautiful thing in the world" mumbo jumbo, we get Caine concluding that "In this shit life, we must chuck some things"—for which his National Book Award should surely be rescinded.) Still, The Weather Man begs to be taken seriously and can't easily be dismissed; it kicks around in your mind for a good long while after you've seen it. Cage, who does his finest work since Leaving Las Vegas, has stripped himself bare of the patented tics and mannerisms—the hyper stutter-speak, the convulsive hand gestures—he honed in one Jerry Bruckheimer movie too many. It's a performance of remarkable quiet and inner rage. Watching it, you feel you're seeing an actor renewed, even as he plays a character whose life teeters on the brink of cancellation.

THE WEATHER MAN WAS DIRECTED BY GORE VERBINSKI; WRITTEN BY STEVE CONRAD; AND PRODUCED BY TODD BLACK, JASON BLUMENTHAL, STEVE TISCH AND DAVID ALPER. NOW PLAYING COUNTYWIDE.

 
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