Nicholas Cage, doing his downbeat everyman, plays Dave Spritz, a Chicago television weather man going through a mid-life crisis. His exasperated ex-wife (Hope Davis) has moved on with her life after their divorce and is in a relationship with a man that Dave can’t stand. Their two children are troubled. His overweight daughter (Gemmenne de la Pena) urgently needs social guidance and his teenage son (Nicolas Hoult from About a Boy) is remote and troubled. He’s also getting far too close to his creepy student counsellor (Gil Bellows). Most painfully, his father (Michael Caine), Robert Spritz, an acclaimed writer, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. David does not value himself, much less his profession. Maybe people discern that from his permanently smiling face, which is why they throw fast food at him from passing cars. They can tell that he’s a self-loathing loser, a miserable failure and the object of his own contempt.
Some of Dave’s inadequacy can be traced to his father Robert (Michael Caine), a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, the toast of the Chicago literary set, who cannot hide his disappointment in his only son. It’s not that Dave is on TV discussing the weather, it’s that he’s just reading out the information. He’s not a qualified meteorologist and has no ambition to become one. For his part, Robert is coming to terms with his sad news and is desperate to teach his floundering son some life lessons. “Do you know,” he asks, “that the harder thing to do and the right thing to do are usually the same thing?” With his life in a shambles and his spirits sinking lower than the November barometer, Dave leans something nobody on television should ever learn, that he is artificial. The knowledge almost kills him.
The film was directed by Gore Verbinski, who previously made The Pirates of the Caribbean and The Ring, and like Cage, isn’t someone you’d pick for the material. He does well, setting a suitably frosty mood through some inspired photography and some delicately emotional scenes. He also makes room for a little levity, through some funny wordplay and tellingly suburban comedy of embarrassment, but only a little. The atmosphere otherwise is gloomy and contemplative. The scenes between Cage and Caine are by far the films most effective, Cage’s existential uncertainty playing beautifully against Caine’s icy, bourgeoisie self-control. As a character essay about inadequacy and the emasculation of the modern man, The Weather Man predicts a chilly forecast, with too little sunshine to fully recommend.