By JONATHAN CRIBBS
Republished from the Oct. 27, 2005, issue of The Diamondback in College Park, Md.
Nicholas Cage might now be the king of voice-over narration.
Case in point: Cage and Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman spent almost two hours in “Adaptation” thumbing their noses at screenplay professor Robert McKee and his puritanical rants on movie principle and structure. “Voice over is hackneyed, sloppy storytelling,” he’d say. “It’s telling when you should be showing.”
But Cage’s diarrhea of the brain wouldn’t cease: “I suck. I’m terrible. I’m disgusting. I can’t write. Kill me now,” and so on. You either loved it or hated it.
In “The Weather Man,” Cage’s depressing brain vomit returns with a new razor-sharp, hilarious focus on white-bread America and the upper middle class in 2005 — a malnourished society raised on material pleasures: fast food, television, drugs, fashion, dysfunction and soullessness.
All of this predictably leads to depression and emotional breakdown, which is where “The Weather Man” finds Cage’s David Spritz, a divorced father of two who lives in a ritzy Chicago apartment and makes about $250,000 a year as, you guessed it — a bouncy, slick-talking weatherman despite having no meteorological background whatsoever.
Essentially, he’s become rich without really achieving or working toward anything, and this is one of director Gore Verbinski’s central themes. In “The Weather Man,” Verbinski, whose career spans several genres, including monster hits “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Ring,” weaves piercing, uncomfortable humor with bleak Chicago cityscapes and dark tales of suburbia. It’s reminiscent of “American Beauty” or anything directed by Todd Solondz, who specializes in suburban shock cinema.
Spritz realizes, as he’s invited to try out for a Bryant Gumbel Today Show equivalent in New York, that his family is falling apart.
His hard-bitten, obese daughter Shelly is generally uninterested in everything.
His 15-year-old son is in rehab.
His ex-wife Noreen is moving on with a new man.
Meanwhile, people won’t stop yelling at him or throwing fast food at him on the street.
And Spritz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning father, Robert, played by Michael Caine (“Batman Begins,” “The Cider House Rules”), is rapidly deteriorating. Just as he did in “Batman Begins,” Caine expertly conveys a sense of wisdom and provides the eureka moments needed to motivate his son: “‘Easy’ doesn’t enter into grown up life. To get anything of value, you have to sacrifice.”
And somewhere in all of this, archery will become a source of focus and determination, and it’s one of the funniest, quirkiest and most wonderfully inspiring things in this movie.
In an interview with The New York Times Magazine some time ago, “American Beauty” director Sam Mendes said he wasn’t interested in examining the decay of middle-class society alone. He said he found it too easy to see the bad, the sad and the depressing aspects of American middle-class life.
In “The Weather Man,” Verbinski appears to agree. Once you peel away the surface, there are opportunities for redemption — as long as you’re willing to give up a little too.