At the risk of employing a weather analogy straight away, Gore Verbinski's film, The Weather Man, is like one of those gray days that actually turns out to be quite pleasant. Verbinski, who's better known for his noisier and more frantic flicks (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mexican) switches gears and delivers a small-scale comedy-drama about a Chicago TV weather man's mid-life crisis.
David Spritz (yes, that's his fake easy-to-remember "TV weather" name) is treading choppy waters. He's freshly divorced; his two kids are teetering badly through adolescence; his father's dying; and the pleasure has drained out of his career: Not only is the Windy City's weather notably unpredictable, but David must endure the ravings of the citizenry, who see the TV weather man as a mutually held -- and decidedly accountable -- property.
Into the gloom of this winter of discontent comes a small ray of light: David's being considered for a job at "Hello America," a national morning show in New York City. It's just enough to make him fantasize about repairing his marriage -- until, of course, his natural inclinations for self-absorption and pettiness derail his good intents.
Surprisingly what anchors Weather Man is the low-key performance from Nicolas Cage as David. His gloomy pout is the perfect canvas for the pique, frustration, arrogance and hurt that play out across it -- and Cage is to be commended for not taking the easier mugging route. A tip of the hat also goes to Michael Caine, another noted scenery-chewer, who plays David's prize-winning author father, Robert Spritzel, with the quiet remove typical of his generation: He's vaguely disappointed in David but his affection is genuine. Hope Davis, a gem in any film, portrays David's ex-wife Noreen.
The script, by Steven Conrad, only occasionally veers into melodrama -- a subplot involving David's teen-age son and his rehab counselor is over done. Adolescence is brutal enough without adding unlikely boogeymen. Just look at his 12-year-old daughter, a miserable lump of a pre-teen who doesn't even know why her classmates call her "camel toe."
The film is best, and at its most painfully funny, when it unspools such small scenes of domestic intranquility, such as David's bumbling of a simple take-out order (his crime isn't the forgetful act, but the pathetic cover-up) or his misguided attempts to boost his daughter's self-esteem with archery, of all things. Its chief flaw is that in earnestly portraying David, warts and all, the film doesn't let us completely embrace David, because yeah, he is kind of a jerk. Still, this is a film that ultimately feels more indie-with-stars than multiplex, and that loophole allows The Weather Man to be an imperfect, but still satisfying dramedy.