Dave Spritz, the star of The Weather Man, may be the world’s worst successful television personality. As a popular weatherman at a major affiliate in Chicago, Spritz delivers the daily forecast like a bipolar who’s able to time his manic episodes to correspond with the camera’s red on-air light.
During his off-air moments, Dave (Nicolas Cage) certainly experiences enough trouble to feed to his depressed side. His marriage is on the rocks; his father (Michael Caine), a Pulitzer-prize winning author, doesn’t respect the man Dave has become; his daughter is struggling with obesity, and his son with drugs.
The only thing going well in Dave’s life, his career, is the one thing he takes no pride in. Though he continually tries to impress his dying father and his estranged wife (Hope Davis) with the news that he’s a finalist for a national morning show hosted by Bryant Gumble, he’s acutely aware that his profession is sometimes little more than a magic act. No one can always predict the mood swings of Mother Nature. “It's wind for ******’*-sake,” an exasperated Dave screeches at a fan who inquires about the next day’s forecast, “who the **** knows?!”
Dave's lack of meteorological expertise (an off-air meteorologist feeds him his weathercasts) compounds his insecurity. He feels like a fraud, no more substantial on screen than Sponge Bob Squarepants. But Dave’s lack of knowledge doesn’t bother most of his viewers in the Windy City, they simply love his irreverent ways around the blue screen.
For anyone familiar with television news, this creates one of the film’s major problems.
Cage does such a good job seeming like a storm about to break that it’s hard to imagine how anyone could respond favorably to his forced, frenzied cheeriness. Perhaps that’s why a small section of Dave’s audience reacts to seeing him on the street by throwing all manner of fast food at him - tacos, chicken wings, Frosties and Big Gulps - whatever they have handy.
This barrage of flying objects is made to look common to the life of weathermen, but as the wife of a weatherman, I have to say no one has ever thrown so much as a peanut at my husband (I, of course, have considered it, but I can’t see that he’s ever given anyone else much reason to).
Fifty years ago, after this downer of a set-up, The Weather Man might have gone on to show how Dave comes to terms with his self-loathing - how he gains perspective on his life, how he learns that every job can have honor if done with a sense of service, and how he realizes that he’s blessed to live in a country that bestows such riches for enjoyable labor.
Today, on the other hand, the entire purpose of the film seems to be to confirm for Dave that his first instinct about himself is correct - he is a joke and a sham. Now he just needs to learn to be okay with that.
These days Hollywood has a tendency to mistake negativity for insight, depression for honesty.
None of the characters in The Weather Man have much regard for one another, as evidenced by the frequent shrieking of obscenities – husband to wife, child to father, child to grandfather, father to child and so on. Even supposedly sympathetic characters, like Dave’s betrayed wife and his cancer-ridden father, come off as cruel and uncomfortable. On the one hand we don’t think it’s right that Dave cheated on his wife, but after being exposed to her shrill condescension for a few minutes, we don’t think it’s entirely wrong either.
It’s as though the filmmakers believe the whole world will tell you they’re miserable if only they were brave enough to say so. Indeed, Michael Caine’s fatherly advice to his son comprises the story’s only overt message, and it’s a wrist-slasher: “In this s*** life, you’ve just gotta chuck some things.”
The Weatherman mines a few authentic moments, such as Dave’s pain at seeing another man move in on his family and the myriad dangers faced by children of divorce. But none bear the slightest mark of hope.
Strangely, the filmmakers never acknowledge Dave’s most obvious problem: He’s selfish. Like everyone else populating this film, Dave lives only for himself and for his own satisfaction. Naturally this leads him to turn his mental focus inward, and he obsesses on his feelings until he brings himself to the brink of psychological collapse.
Even when Dave achieves his moment of clarity, "All of the people I could be," he reflects, "they got fewer and fewer until finally they got reduced to only one. And now that's who I am. The weatherman," it’s only in the shallow sense that he’s decided to give up on becoming more.
Thank goodness, in my experience, this kind of inverse egotism isn’t typical to forecasting. If my husband ever displayed any of the characteristics of weatherman Dave, I’d probably chuck a Big Gulp at him myself.