Monday Movies Receives a Large Reward for Pretty Much Zero Effort and Contribution
The Weather Man (2005) was recently brought to my attention as Nicolas Cage’s last great movie (via) and while Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans might join it in the final bracket, I think it wins. (BL:POC wins something too. “Shoot him again, his soul is still dancing“? Come on!) A black comedy, its use of the frigid Chicago lakescape suggests that “cold comedy” might be a genre worth naming. See also: The Ice Harvest.
Cage plays Dave Spritz, a Chicago weather reporter who understands that people throw fast food at him because he’s an overpaid pretty face. He lashes out at everyone around him for not concealing the knowledge that he’s failed them. His ailing father, a revered novelist who still bears the full family name of Spritzel, doesn’t even pretend his work is meaningful. His ex-wife can barely keep a lid on her pity. His daughter is overweight, teased at school, and sliding into glum torpor. His son is drifting too close into the orbit of his predatory drug counselor. All these things scratch at his attention, the bulk of which is devoted to winning a spot on national TV next to Bryant Gumbel at a New York-based morning show.
The Weather Man feels like the kind of movie that 9 times out of 10 would be better served as an indie film, but it’s a credit to the studio system that it found a way to apply impressive talent to a $22 million “edgy” comedy without smoothing it out. Everyone involved is working at the top of his intelligence. Director Gore Verbinksi frames a lot of the action in the center, achieving a distancing effect that’s neither the cheeky deadpan of Wes Anderson or the puppet-master cruelty of the Coen brothers. (Verbinski had already directed Pirates of the Carribbean, a movie that given its provenance and budget should be boring and isn’t at all; with the addition of weird, Oscar-winning Rango, he’s established himself as a versatile, intelligent artist.) Hans Zimmer trims the movie with a propulsive, twitchy electronica, never going near the portentous orchestra hits of Inception. And Steve Conrad’s script is a literary accomplishment in his own right. The plotting is lean. Each character’s individual world feels well-developed enough to flesh out another full movie. And there’s an uncommon degree of attention to characters’ language–Conrad’s investment in the simple but odd differences between Spritz’s and Spritzel’s uses of the word “fuck” are the strongest evidence of this, but it’s clear in each of the Spritz kids as well.
The script feels so pared away that almost every scene contains a statement of theme. “I have to see my kids!” Cage protests at a guy who threw a pie at him, which, because of their pain and his, he really does. “You could rededicate yourselves. Buckle down,” says father Spritzel to son Spitz; it’s a broken key with a missing half. “Easy doesn’t enter into grown-up life,” he offers later on.
The weather man’s actual work is well observed, leading to some of the best deployed symbols, especially Spitz’s standout skill, that of performing in front of an empty green screen, waving his hands in the air to match up with the chyrons and satellite images. The meetings with the technical staffer are exceptionally vivid, yielding the lessons of his art that he will have to transmute into life. ”It’s wind, man. It blows all over the place.” “It’s random. We do our best.”
It’s hard not to see William Hurt and Albert Brooks in Broadcast News here (though Jason Wells only has two scenes); this may not just be Nicolas Cage’s last great film but also the last one in which his prettiness is pushed forward.
The plot moves Spitz in and out of crisis, but it’s not exactly linear. There’s a moment in the middle of the film–when he’s trying to figure out if his daughter knows why the kids at school have chosen her particularly troublesome nickname. She knows what they call her. She thinks it’s because she’s tough. Should he tell her it’s not? The answer isn’t obvious, but it’s the first time Spitz pays attention to the situation without lashing out at it. He has many steps to go, both backwards and forwards, before he’ll be able to embrace what his father identifies as, with cruel precision, his “terrific American accomplishment.”
And you? What was your American accomplishment, movie-wise?
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