Steve Conrad’s script for The Weather Man consists mostly of a running interior monologue by a Chicago TV weatherman named David Spritz, who’s bucking for a job on a national morning show while at the same time dealing with his father’s terminal illness, the demands of his estranged wife and the adolescent crises of his two children. As written by Conrad, Spritz has a quintessentially American voice: petulant, profane and hopeful. He knows he’s just a well-paid mediocrity, but he could live with it, if only his wife and kids would love him again.
There’s something profound, maybe even important, stirring around in the guts of The Weather Man, but director Gore Verbinski and star Nicolas Cage don’t have a feel for it. Cage plays an unhinged man by dwelling at the extremes of his mood swings, and the actor misses the plain humanity that landed Spritz a wife and a high-paying job in the first place. He doesn’t even do the weather all that well, though to be fair, the movie’s snide dismissal of the whole weather profession probably originated with Conrad’s script. Ultimately, the local TV milieu proves to be a dull hook for a sharply angst-ridden story.
As for Verbinski, he finds one abrasive tone and sticks with it, repeating the mistake of his previous major misfire, The Mexican. Everything in The Weather Man is arch and abstracted, to the extent that about 80 percent of the jokes are painfully mistimed (though the remaining 20 percent are wound correctly and laugh-out loud funny). Verbinski also shows more than a little contempt for his bourgeois milieu. Fast food plays a major role in both the plot and the visual design of the film, but the director shoots every Big Gulp cup and half-eaten corndog as if they were a vulgar intrusion onto an otherwise pristine world.
In a way, what most impedes The Weather Man is that, like the upcoming Shopgirl and some other recent movies, it’s too derivative of American Beauty, Lost in Translation and the combined oeuvres of David Fincher and P.T. Anderson. All these new-breed quasi-arthouse movies are helmed by superior stylists selling the inadvertent, mystical wonder of everyday life, but The Weather Man’s story feels too lumpy and prosaic for the aesthetic elevation. Maybe in 20 years, the movie’s derivatively off-kilter style will seem as quaint as a lens flare in a late-’60s youth picture, and audiences will believe that filmmakers had to use all that ironic polish to convey how we’re all a little hollow inside. But right here and now, it’s just hard to watch.