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ISSUE 119 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/18/2005

Cage succeeds as dejected weatherman

By Jason Zencka
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 18, 2005

In an early scene in Gore Verbinski’s "The Weather Man," a desperate-looking Nicolas Cage announces to his bathroom mirror, "I’m refreshing." Cage speaks with the cloying self-confidence that distinguishes TV anchors, but as soon as he stops beaming his face seems to sag and his eyes bottom out into a nervous despair.

This scene is our first introduction to Cage’s David Spritz and its implications are clear: Dave Spritz is not refreshing. Not to Dave Spritz, anyway.

Spritz is Chicago’s foremost television weatherman and an increasingly lost cause. He is at a time in his life where his career is climbing a ladder even as his dignity is toppling down a staircase.

His marriage is a wreck, his children are slipping into the darkest traps of adolescence, he hates his job and would probably hate himself, too, if he thought it were worth the trouble.

Worst of all, he knows his problems, knows their reasons and knows a million ways to get out of them. Like many people who find themselves in this state, he specializes in picking the exact wrong one.

To teach his daughter a lesson, he insists on finishing a publicity sack-race even though she complains of a hurt leg. She goes home in crutches. In another scene, he slaps his ex-wife’s fiancée with a pair of leather gloves. In yet another scene, he botches a marital counseling session by doing something so obviously counterproductive, its stupidity is rivaled only by its selfishness.

And yet, somehow, we like him. Or at least, we like him enough. Verbinski’s direction, coupled with Steve Conrad’s script and Cage’s meticulous performance let the audience share in Spritz’ personal ambivalence: We have moments where we cannot help but feel for him, along with moments where we would be shirking our duties as moral agents if we did anything less than completely loath his behavior. Like Spritz himself, we do not know quite what to do with him, but we are not quite ready to give up on him either.

The result is something strange. As a film, "The Weather Man" seems both formulaic and indefinable. It is appropriate that Spritz’s father is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, since the story feels like a short story trapped in the clothes of standard Hollywood fare. The film is melancholy, even despairing, but it is no more monochromatic than your basic romantic comedy or breezy star-buoyed inspirational film; it’s just darker – a genuine feel-bad comedy.

The burdened heart of the film’s success is Cage’s performance. Seeing his saccharine TV grin and punchy commercial persona, the viewer might be forgiven for thinking that "The Weather Man" serves as a place for Cage to caricature himself, for him to copy the broken exuberance he displayed in "Leaving Las Vegas," or the mousy hopelessness he perfected in "Adaptation."

His performance is subtler, however: He plays a character who caricatures himself, who is lost in the worst imagined version of his future, who is fatuous and unhappy and wants life to be as simple as predicting the weather.

Ultimately, what is David Spritz if not refreshing? He is the centerpiece of a film bold enough to be simultaneously quirky, sincere, and mainstream.

All in all, the film is both wise and sad, uncompromising and endearing. Refreshing. Like looking into the face of a cold Chicago wind.

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