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film review **1/2: Outlook for ...Weather Man... Partly Cloudy

Deep Verbinski Film Questions Life, Happiness

By Yong-yi Zhu

The Weather Man

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Written by Steve Conrad

Starring Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine

Rated R

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If you made $240,000 a year and only had to work two hours a day to get it, would you be a happy man? Steve Conrad seeks to dispel the notion that money can make a man happy in “The Weather Man” through his cleverly and carefully crafted script. With this intensely metaphorical film, we are forced to ask ourselves about how happy we are with our lives.

Dave Spritz (Nicholas Cage) predicts the weather for a local Chicago TV station but has no degree in meteorology and doesn’t really know how the weather systems work. He simply makes guesses on air, reporting them with authority, and makes close to a quarter-million dollar salary doing so.

However, even with his high-salaried job, Dave is unsatisfied with his life. His ex-wife, Noreen (Hope Davis) absolutely hates him. She lives with her new boyfriend in their old home. His daughter, Shelly, adds to his worries. She is overtly obese but insists on wearing tight clothing. She gets made fun of at school, and she smokes. His son, Mike (Nicholas Hoult), is no better. He had a drug problem and sees a drug counselor who happens to be a gay pedophile. Dave’s father, Robert (Michael Caine), is ill and might be dying. If that weren’t all enough, passersby on the street chuck food at Dave.

Dave goes through a series of learning experiences that force him to question how he can make his life happier. Should he try to help his family out? Should he continue with his job? Should he stay in Chicago? As he tries to answer these questions, he is also attempting to answer the grander inquiry of “What will truly make him happy?”

Because the film deals with such subtle and nebulous issues, it is an extremely symbolic and artistic movie. Nothing comes at face value. This film is designed to make the audience think once they walk out of the theater. Whether it be the food that people throw at Dave or his attempts at archery, everything has a deeper meaning than the film initially reveals.

However, in trying to teach these lessons with so much symbolism, the film struggles to be coherent at times. The audience has to read too much into everything to get anything from the movie and that is problematic at times when the film’s messages are not perfectly clear.

Director Gore Verbinski does try hard to combine good acting with a subtle treatment of sound and picture to create such a multi-dimensional film. The pictures in the film are designed to make you feel uneasy. Verbinski shows a room with a door ajar, simply to disrupt the symmetry of the image. He films Caine and Cage sitting next to one another with the camera slightly off-center just to make the picture atypical. The use of silence creates a sense of tension that discomforts the audience and is employed throughout the movie to show the emptiness of Dave’s life. He is not a man full of potential, but rather is a man with nothing to build on.

There are also discordant and rhythmic sounds that Verbinski uses to drive home feeling of unhappiness. Dave is constantly nervous and distressed at what he has to do, whether it be renewing his vehicle registration, shooting an arrow, or shopping with his daughter. The music gives the movie a strange feel that will not be forgotten once you walk out of the theater.

But as uncomfortable as the characters seem on screen, the actors themselves adopted the weirdness of these roles extremely well. Nicolas Cage is tremendous at being a sucker and loser. His character is almost an extension of his roles in “Adaptation” and “Matchstick Men.”

Michael Caine fits well into the role of Spritz’s father. He is calm and overbearing, but at the same time, provides fatherly comfort. When he talks, Dave not only listens, but also aims to please him. Caine’s aloof attitude in portraying the wise and disapproving fatherly figure is just another example of how accomplished an actor his is. And from him, as well as the film in general, we learn that life is not perfect, and we just have to deal with the crap that gets thrown at us along the way.