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The Weather Man
cast: Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis, and Gil Bellows

director: Gore Verbinski

101 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail
[released 24 July]

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
With the recent popularity of films such as Sideways, The Wonderboys, American Beauty and Lost In Translation, the principles and techniques of American independent cinema have slowly been finding their way into the output of the big studios. The Weather Man is a perfect example of this phenomenon; boasting an impressive cast and a popular director, the film is proof that Hollywood is interested in telling smaller and more intimate stories. However, formulaic direction, weak characterisation and a slapdash narrative show that there's more to making an independent movie than merely talking the talk.

The Weather Man is one of those psychoanalytical tales of spiritual death and rebirth that Americans seem to love so much. Dave Spritz (Nicolas Cage) is a weatherman who, despite earning $240,000 and being on the cusp of earning $1.2 million, is unhappy. Estranged from his wife and children, Dave also struggles for the approval of his father the hugely respected author (Michael Caine). The more Dave tries to get back together with his family, the further he seems to push them away as he screams insults and tries more and more desperate stunts to win their love and respect. Given that character studies exploring themes such as midlife crises and middle-aged angst have been so popular in recent years, The Weather Man was going to have to offer something special in order to make its mark. However, far from offering us anything new, Gore Verbinski struggles to follow the formula successfully.

A tale of spiritual death and rebirth is a story built around one central character arc. In the likes of The Wonderboys and Sideways, the film begins with the middle-aged unhappy male stuck in a rut that he then tries to get out of, but this only results in him getting more and more unhappy until the film's climax where the character hits rock bottom and realises that he needs to change. In this respect, a mid-life crisis drama is very much like a murder mystery as the film digs away at the character until the solution is discovered.

The Weather Man has some of these ideas, most notably the unhappiness, the angst and the hitting rock bottom but it lacks any coherent narrative. Indeed, Verbinski and writer Steve Conrad never bother to explain why it is that Dave is really unhappy or what it is that he needs to change. Instead of truly exploring Spitz's personality, the film tries mostly unsuccessfully to be funny in a pathetic way. This leaves the audience unable to empathise with the character and therefore largely uninterested in his plight.

This problem is re-enforced by the fact that Dave's supporting characters are as dysfunctional as he is. For example, his wife does nothing but scream, his daughter is fat, and a counsellor is preying upon his son, and none of these characters are particularly interesting or well written. However, the most blatant example of poor character design is Dave's father. Described as a 'national treasure' the second he appears on screen, Caine adopts a frightful American accent and spends the whole film looking wistful and occasionally coming out with advice that is clearly meant to be profound but in reality is nothing more than gobbledegook the worst example of which is the idea that "sometimes in life you have to chuck stuff" which would seem to indicate that in fact it is dart players who know the secret to inner peace and tranquillity. Well... it's always the last place you look isn't it?

The Weather Man is neither funny nor dramatic and neither intelligent nor insightful. Instead of providing us with the rich and intriguing character study that it clearly thinks it is, the film gives the unfortunate impression of filmmakers content with going through the motions by filling the runtime with endless shots of people staring into the middle distance, in a failed attempt to makeup for the fact that the characters are poorly written, fundamentally un-likeable and uninteresting.
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