David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) is a popular Chicago television weatherman who doesn't enjoy his fame (his detractors throw food at him on the street). He's dealing with the break-up of his marriage and family (Hope Davis, Nicholas Hoult, and Gemmenne de la Pena), at the same time assisting his disapproving, literary genius father (Michael Caine) with cancer treatment appointments. On the eve of snatching a cushy network job in New York, David looks to reassess his life, and he tries to seal the emotional cracks he helped create. With misplaced anger and foolish ambition, he aspires for the perfect life he felt he once had, only to question if it was even there in the first place.
To best describe "Weather Man" (IMDb listing), I would say it's a distant cousin to "American Beauty." Not that the two films have much in common storywise, but the stylized, purposefully elongated filmmaking is similar, as is the idea of the perceived erosion of the nuclear family. However, "Weather" is a comedy tinged with drama, and it invites the audience into the mind of the lead character, instead of pushing them away.
Directed by Gore Verbinski ("The Ring," "Pirates of the Caribbean"), "Weather Man" showcases a bold leap forward for the director. Usually content with busy visual schemes and lackluster screenplays, Verbinski has found gold in this material, and he doesn't waste a moment detailing Dave's character arc. This is the best work the filmmaker has put up on the screen to date, and the challenging nature of the script gives Verbinski lots of dramatic and stylistic choices to pick from. Embracing the symbolically frigid, ice encrusted Chicago winter locales, the director develops a world for David where his frustrations percolate, his fame haunts him daily, and the Grand Canyon-like disconnect with his family honestly seems reparable to him. Verbinski basically leans back and lets Nicolas Cage do all the heavy lifting, yet, as a good director should do, he wraps his performers carefully in this invented world, and gooses David's inner monologue with mannered filmmaking and dreamlike asides.
Using Steve Conrad's introspective script as a springboard, "Weather Man" is truly The Nicolas Cage Show. Giving a resoundingly complete, tour de force performance, Cage understands David right away, and digs right into the character's complications and flaws, enjoying both David's matrimonial dark side and his misguided ambitions to properly father his children. Assisted by a narration/thought process that runs throughout the movie (a film highlight), along with some classic reactions to being pelted with fast food on the street, this is remarkable work from Cage, again reminding us why he's one of the most interesting actors around. Backed by terrific supporting work from Michael Caine and Hope Davis, Cage takes the dare and runs with it, giving the film an emotionally potent focal point.
While exceedingly funny, "Weather Man" does contain a rather dark streak as it goes, found in a subplot that paints David's teenage son as the potential victim of his drug counselor's (Gil Bellows) sexual advances. While necessary to add weight to David's awareness of parental failure, the scenes do stop the movie cold, leaving Verbinski cornered on how to put the production back on track. He has better luck with the cancer subplot, which manages to avoid dreariness due both to Caine's restrained portrayal and the inclusion of a fascinating, celebratory "living funeral" scene.
A quirky, hilarious, and inventive character piece, "The Weather Man" might be a tough sell to some due to the intimate nature of the story. Exploring the mind of a failed man looking to better his life might not initially appear welcoming, but the strength of the filmmaking and the performances carry this material expertly, making this a great autumnal surprise.
Filmfodder Grade: A-