Gore Verbinski is an American filmmaker who started his feature film career with the comedy Mouse Hunt (1997) and went on to make films spanning different genres. The Ring (2002) was a remake of a Japanese horror film (Ringu, 1998). He helmed the first three films of the supernatural adventure Pirates of the Caribbean film series – The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and At World’s End (2007) – all international box office hits. He went on to direct the animated film Rango (2011), which won the Best Animated Film in the 84th Academy Awards. He also made a dark comedy, The Weather Man (2005), which is mostly underappreciated.
Made in-between Verbinski’s smash hit Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, The Weather Man was unlike any films released by mainstream Hollywood in that timeframe. Released in 2005, it featured a marvelous cast – Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine and Hope Davis among others. But it had a mixed reception; general public opinion was that it was a very depressing film. While it performed decently at the box office, it wasn’t very popular.
The Weather Man is a dark comedy, no doubt. But it is a dark comedy which is incredibly well-directed and acted. It has the feel of an independent film while featuring big Hollywood names. The script is written by Steven Conrad, who was also the writer of another underappreciated film Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993). The Weather Man is about the life of a weathercaster in Chicago, David Spritz, played immaculately by Nicolas Cage. David’s life is in turmoil. While he has a decent job with an attractive salary, his personal life is in complete disarray. His marriage is falling apart, he lives separately away from his family home. He loves his children, Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña) and Mike (Nicholas Hoult), but he feels them drifting away from him.
The cinematography is beautiful, the film starts with a shot of Chicago in winter. It is bitterly cold, with Lake Michigan wrapped in a white blanket of ice. The mood it creates is a dark one, which perfectly mirrors the mental state of the film’s protagonist, David. The music is scored by Hans Zimmer who succeeds in capturing the mood of the film effortlessly.
One finds Dave going through the routine that is his life, trying to understand where he went wrong and how he can try to correct it. His relationship with his wife Noreen (Hope Davis) is strained, to say the least. She already has a suitor named Russ (Michael Rispoli). David’s father Robert Spritzel (Michael Caine) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who is seemingly in complete control of his own life. David is clearly in awe of him; throughout the film he tries to live up to (what he assumes is) his father’s expectations. David is writing a science-fiction novel, Breaking Point, which his wife thinks is completely hopeless. His father subtly avoids giving any opinion about it. While Robert really wants his son to fix his problems with his family, he disapproves of how he is going about it; he disapproves of David cursing in front of Shelly and Mike. He doesn’t get this modern habit of spewing out four-lettered words at the slightest provocation.
David’s teenage son is in a drug rehabilitation program and his twelve-year-old daughter has taken up smoking. Both clearly love him but are tired of the regular shouting matches between the parents. Another weird trouble that plagues David is a string of incidents where junk-food packets and soda cups are hurled at him, whether in a car or on foot. He is trying to figure out why this is happening.
David’s job pays well, and he is quite good at it. But he clearly is indifferent about it. He has a degree in General Communications and not Meteorology, as some people expect him to have. People in this film are trying very hard to live up to expectations of their loved ones and failing at it. David knows that his writing skill will never be up to his father’s standard, or his own. He deletes the whole manuscript eventually. His attempt at repairing his failing marriage ends in a disaster. He is constantly frustrated, angry and easily distracted. It seems, at some points of this film, that some unknown force doesn’t want him to succeed. Whatever he tries to do goes badly in some way or the other, from failing to bring his father a cup of coffee because he doesn’t have enough money in his wallet to not remembering a food item that his wife specifically wants at a takeout, despite trying to remember. This frustrates him even more.
David’s character in this film is portrayed in a very unflattering light. It is not that he is a horrible man; he is frustrated by his own failings, and can’t stop making the same mistakes no matter how hard he tries. His father gives him some advice on life and how to deal with it. He tells David, “Easy doesn’t enter into a grown-up life” and that he must make sacrifices if wants to make things right. David seems to have lost the ability to enjoy the pleasures of life.
Nicolas Cage does a great job at portraying the inner struggles. From having a dejected body language and expression to getting increasingly frustrated. There is a sincerity in his portrayal that is striking, one of the reasons for that is Cage’s familiarity with one of the major problems shown in the film – broken families. Cage mentions in an interview given to the film critic Roger Ebert, “I saw it as a reflection of the broken families that we have today in our country… I am certainly no stranger to the divorce, and when I decided to make The Weather Man, I was processing those feelings.”
The shot structure of the film is meticulously slow and languid, creating a distinct atmosphere of a coldness that penetrates the souls of the lead characters in the film. Even when things seem extremely bleak, the script and the performances manage to bring out the lighter side that co-exists with the chaos in the absurdity of life. The film finds jocularity in small details: like in the scene where David advises Shelly to carry around more change because she is growing up, but later finds himself short of change when he tries to buy the newspaper his father asks for. Robert reprimands him, “You should carry more than a dollar David. You’re a grown man.”
It is at this moment in David’s life that he discovers that his father has lymphoma, which is terminal. This is a turning point in the film. He gets a very lucrative offer from a national morning television show Hello America in New York, as their channel’s weathercaster. He tries to solve his problems by throwing money at it, which does nothing to mitigate them. The food projectiles keep assaulting him. In the meantime, he takes on archery as a hobby. As it becomes clear that his father will die soon, and he’s still not able to solve any of his problems, he focuses on archery. With some time and effort, he begins to get good at it.
The film gives the viewer subliminal suggestions in many shots throughout the film, especially when David is present: signboards can be seen of fast-food chains like McDonalds; but it is towards the end of the film that he has an epiphany. In a scene where David is sitting in a shopping mall surrounded by fast-food joints, he suddenly solves the mystery of all the food and drinks thrown at him. The film makes a strong statement about the immense growth of consumerism in America, as the scene slowly takes in all the junk food that people are consuming around him, no pleasure apparent on their faces.
David suddenly realizes that it is the inaccurate and (what he perhaps feels is) the superficial nature of his occupation which is causing the trouble; and that in a way, his work mirrors the unthinking and hasty decisions he has made throughout his life until now, “Always fast food. Fast food. Things that people would rather throw out than finish. It’s easy, it tastes all right, but it doesn’t really provide you any nourishment. I’m fast food.”
Try as he might, the meaning of life eludes David. He is frustrated and dejected at his failures. Even when he tries to give a speech at his father’s ‘living funeral’, the lights suddenly go out and everybody loses interest after his first line, “When I think of my dad, I think of Bob Seger’s Like a rock”. He is constantly trying to be like his father, whom he considers as solid as a rock in his convictions and his approach towards life. David fails at writing a novel, he fails as a husband and for the most part, as a father. The job he does requires superficial skills, and he cannot predict the weather accurately because no one can. Meanwhile, David’s archery lessons start to give him some focus, and he channels all his hurt and frustrations through it. Before attending his father’s funeral (and after it) he really starts to show the emotions he has been bottling up. The arrows are shown to break the ice that’s deposited on the targets at his practice range, suggestive of the impending crack in David’s emotional armour and the changes that are about to come.
He breaks down in the scene where he meets his father for the last time and voices his frustration about his job, “But I don’t predict it. Nobody does, ’cause it’s just wind. It’s wind. It blows all over the place!” Robert finally softens and advises his son to let go of the things he cannot control, in a most uncharacteristically open manner – “This sh*t life… we must chuck some things. We must chuck them… in this sh*t life.” Robert dies shortly after, and there is a clear change in David’s attitude for the better. He bonds with his children at Robert’s funeral, even jokes about Mike’s ability to predict the weather correctly and how he may replace him as a weathercaster. He eventually takes the job at Hello America and moves to New York while winter departs, and spring arrives.
Albert Camus once wrote, “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” Perhaps David finally comprehends this. He finally accepts who he is, realizing that all his struggles to live up to his family’s expectations are now impossible. While he gradually does a much better job of being a responsible father, he will never have his family back. Noreen has married Russ; and while the children still love David and meet him on weekends, they are quite comfortable with the peace and stability of this new family.
Near the very end of the film David says, “I remember once imagining what my life would be like, what I’d be like. I pictured having all these qualities. Strong, positive qualities… all of them got reduced every year to fewer and fewer, until finally they got reduced to one…to who I am. And that’s who I am…the weatherman.” It pretty much sums up his new attitude towards life – he recognises the fact that he must understand who he is and not give in to frustration and bitterness. His dream is broken, but he has come to terms with his reality. People no longer pelt him with food while he travels. The film ends with his final monologue, “So, forecast? Come on. Another man is with my family. Things didn’t work out the way I predicted. Accepting that’s not easy, but easy doesn’t enter into a grown-up life.”
The Weather Man is a dark film, but not necessarily a gloomy one. It has its silver lining. Witty dialogues and moments of absurd but funny situations crop up throughout that evoke laughter. It nudges us to see the funny side of life, a life where things often do not go according to our plans. And finally, it advises us to make peace with the human condition.