Monday, October 31, 2005

The Weather Man - Movie Review

John Lennon said "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans". If you write a 104 minute screenplay based on this quote and cast Nicholas Cage to play the lead, you have "The Weather Man".

David Spritz (Nicholas Cage), is a Chicago weatherman, recently separated from his wife and two kids. The film is not interested in giving us the details that caused this estrangement . He is apparently flourishing in his job. He has a subdued, but seemingly normal relationship with his famous father (a Pulitzer prize winning author, played by Michael Caine). But there is something lurking underneath the surface that suggests more trouble than the obvious. There is a 10 second close-up of Cage's face in the beginning of the film, where he is just staring at the camera. Through this shot, he is able to suggest a spiritual turmoil underneath without even twitching a single muscle. Now there is star who knows how to act.

The weatherman's (Cage) problem is that he cannot take himself or his job seriously ("I just read the weather, I don't even predict it"). Groucho Marx crystallized this predicament in his brilliant one-liner "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member". This problem seems to be afflicting movie characters since the Marx brothers' time. In a recently released movie "Elizabethtown", the lead character asks "Don't you think that you are just fooling everyone, and someone is just going to call your bluff someday?". It seems that people have a problem quantifying their lives. They need a reference frame against which they can measure their success. And this reference point is almost always too idealistic and unreachable for real life to measure up to. Cage's character in the movie has the same problem. He measures his life with that to his father's. His father published his first book when he was 28 and got his Pulitzer when he was 31. And anything he does in the weather business seems too trivial to even merit comparison with his father's achievements. He writes novels (bad ones at that) in his free time, tries to be a good father by awkwardly spending more time with his kids. He wants more. Doesn't everybody?

There is a possibility of an excellent movie here. But, what we get is only a reasonably good one. The movie has loads of half-baked, heavy sounding, pseudo-Zen babbling. Well, what better can one expect. To expect insights into life's philosophy from a big-budget Hollywood movie is like turning to Dr. Phil's show to solve domestic discord. The movie works not by giving profound insights, but by providing quirky moments and letting good actors do the rest of the job. The strongest parts are the scenes between Nicholas Cage and Michael Caine. Caine provides a perfect counterfoil for Cage's deadpan stares and constipated expressions. The only thing that is more frustrating than wasted talent is half-utilized talent. When you get a glimpse of what could have been..., well, don't we all want more.

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