Rainy-Day Man

Washington City Paper | November 4, 2005
In The Weather Man, director Gore Verbinski has achieved the impossible. It’s not getting another terrific sad-sack performance from star Nicolas Cage, who has already wrenched guts in Leaving Las Vegas and personified writerly angst in Adaptation. And it’s not taking Steve Conrad’s doggedly miserable script and presenting it as a credible portrayal of midlife crisis instead of a piled-on heap of melodrama.

Rather, the accomplishment is this: making Bob Seger’s Chevy-pushing “Like a Rock” poignant again (or, perhaps more accurately, for the first time). Yes, its initial mention—the opening line of a speech that hapless David (Cage) gives at a gathering to celebrate his sick father, Robert (Michael Caine)—seems a bit ludicrous. But when the highbrow Robert, a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, plays the song while sitting with David in his car and asks him to explain how exactly the lyrics relate to him—well, it’s just about the saddest thing in a movie overrun with sadness. And if Seger’s wistfulness doesn’t make you start blubbering, it’ll at least move you to call your folks when you get home.

Cage’s Chicago weather anchor is a functioning depressive, capable of appearing cheery when delivering forecasts he knows are only guesses, yet barely able to handle even small setbacks outside of the station. Polite recognition from fans results in David’s begging them to leave him alone. Not having enough cash to buy his dad a paper or a cup of coffee upon request seems a sonly failure tantamount to, say, landing in jail or getting kicked out of Harvard. But those are David’s lesser worries: There are also Dad’s illness and his barely concealed disappointment in David’s choices; an ex-wife, Noreen (Hope Davis), who’s so bitter that nearly every encounter the former couple has ends up in an argument; and two early-teens children (Gemmenne de la Peña and About a Boy’s Nicholas Hoult) with problems David feels too distanced to solve. Plus, people occasionally throw food at him.

David’s not completely portrayed as a victim, however—constant screw-ups and knee-jerk reactions show that he carries a big part of the blame for his damaged relationships. Smartly, though, the filmmakers support David’s day-to-day travails with a running inner monologue—often good intentions punctuated by “fuck”s—that keeps the character human rather than irredeemably unsympathetic. And though Cage’s hangdog gloominess permeates the movie, Conrad’s script is frequently funny, especially in such moments as David’s reactions to Noreen’s boyfriend (petulantly calling him a “dildo”) and his constant analysis of his lot in life (“I bet no one threw a pie at, like, Harriet Tubman”).

Conrad, whose last major project was 1993’s similarly bleak Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, does inject some hopefulness here, in the form of an invitation to David to apply for a position at a national morning show. Of course, given that it would mean a move to New York, plus further entrenchment in an unfulfilling career (“I receive a large reward for zero effort and little contribution,” David admits), it’s a dubious carrot. Yet David keeps trying, however dejectedly, to make his world brighter. “Easy doesn’t enter into grownup life,” his father cynically tells him. But by the time David begins to make peace with this, you’ll wish that, for him, just once it would.

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