Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Weather You Like Him or Not

Since last night, we’ve been having some unexpected weather shifts here in S.A. - nice rain last night & today and the temp is dropping this week as well. I say unexpected because summer typically (painfully?) runs throughout the month of September in South Texas. In general, it might as well still be August when the calendar switches months…a fact making this week pretty sweet.

This probably has nothing to do with The Weather Man, but it seemed like a mildly appropriate intro regardless. I bothered to see the movie twice during its theatrical run (something of an anomaly for this type of film whereas I’m concerned) and I finally picked it up on DVD this weekend and gave it a third spin.

Nicolas Cage is as frustrating an actor to follow as any working today. Sometimes he guides us to glorious places we didn’t know he was capable of (Adaptation); sometimes we go places with him that weren’t worth the journey (National Treasure); and sometimes he leaves us wondering why we were taken there in the first place (Matchstick Men). The Weather Man - depending on your tastes - could be any of the above three… but for me it squarely falls into Adaptation territory.

The film was wildly mismarketed upon its theatrical release; to imply that I’d have known how to market it successfully would be just as off. Sometimes the inability for studios to market their fare is actually the sign of a good movie and the best films are difficult to sum up in a 2 and a half-minute trailer. That cannot be truer than in the case of The Weather Man (which, by the way, has nothing to do with Cage’s latest movie, The Wicker Man).

Cage plays David Spritz, a Chicago weatherman…but not a meteorologist. He’s begrudgingly separated from his wife Noreen (Hope Davis), has two kids, 12-year old Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña) and 15-year old Mike (Nicholas Hoult) and a Pulitzer Prize-winning father, Robert (Michael Caine), who’s dying of lymphoma with only a few months to live. Because of all the above factors, Dave’s life is in a bizarre state of flux. It’d be too easy to label what he’s going through a mid-life crisis. Maybe it’s more of a painful mid-life awakening?

He wants to be seen as a success by his father. When someone throws a Wendy’s Frosty at Dave, Robert quizzically wonders why this would happen and states, “But David…you just read the weather.” He wants to be seen by Noreen as someone with whom things need to be worked out, never minding that she’s already got a new boyfriend and already seems much happier. We’re shown two very different flashbacks to their past. In one, Dave fails the simplest of Noreen’s requests: “Don’t forget the tartar sauce!” In the other, he fails the simplest of trust exercises in couple's therapy by reading words of Noreen’s that he was told not to. He also wants to be seen by his kids as a hero, due mostly to his feelings about Robert and Noreen.

And Dave spends most of the film trying to breach the numerous gaps, whilst also trying to secure a million dollar a year job in New York on “Hello America with Bryant Gumbel”. The movie, undeniably a cohesive work, consists of a weave of moments of aching heartbreak and gut busting hilarity (<------ Sounds like I wanna be quoted on the one-sheet, doesn't it?). The bits and pieces add up to form a bigger idea. The idea itself isn't always original, but the moments certainly are. As Roger Ebert says, "It's not what a movie's about, but how it's about it".

The Frosty is only one of numerous foods thrown at Dave Spritz. In a moment of clarity, after totaling the items flung his way, Dave realizes that it’s always fast food. He ponders, “Food that people would rather throw away than eat…that’s what I am - fast food”. Indeed, The Weather Man is fast food, only it’s been put through a blender and turned into something more appetizing. There are recognizable brand names like Arby’s and McDonald’s littered throughout the film, but never in a way that adds up to what we’d normally think of as product placement; you certainly don’t come away from it wanting to head to McDonald's for a Hot Apple Pie. There’s stuff going on here that doesn’t belong in a studio movie like this, and maybe that’s a big reason why it's so easy to adore.

Gore Verbinski directed it after the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but before tackling the other two. If Verbinski’s got the clout to make this kind of stuff in between the big moneymaking bonanzas, then more power to him. It’s a trend he should continue. If he was able to pull this off after Pirates, I can only imagine the sort of big budget subversive fare he could unleash after the success of Dead Man’s Chest (at the time of writing, the film is closing in on a billion dollar worldwide take). His direction is spot on, but a huge part of the film's success is also due to Steve Conrad's pitch perfect script.

In addition to Cage’s flawless performance, also noteworthy is Caine’s Robert. We’re supposed to see him through Dave’s eyes as a cold man, but often we see him through our own, and he isn’t always as Dave sees him - and we begin hoping Dave sees those parts before Robert dies.

The most surprising performance, however, comes from Gemmenne de la Peña, an actress whom I predict much greatness from in the future. After Cage, she probably has the most screen time and most of it’s with Cage. They pull off a touching, funny and sometimes even dark father/daughter double act - a huge part of which is rooted in the phrase “cameltoe”, a name Shelly’s often called at school, but doesn’t seem to understand why. When David finally confronts her on the issue, her explanation is so weirdly heartwarming you almost hate yourself for having spent so much time laughing at the ongoing gag.