Wretchedly named Chicago weather man Dave Spritz (Nicolas Cage) is going through a crisis. It’s triggered by what seems like good news: he’s up for a big fat NYC morning show job (though, as the host is a self-mocking Bryant Gumbel, some misgiving may be warranted). Or at least Dave thinks he’s up for the job. Actually, he’s waiting for the confirmation phone call. In the meantime, he worries. He looks in his bathroom mirror: “That was refreshing,” he tells himself. “I am refreshed. I am refreshing.”
Throughout The Weather Man, Dave’s capacity for self-reflection seems limited. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t try, earnestly and with some energetic dedication. Both dumb and forlorn, Dave can’t see past that mirror image, and so his tailspin, a long time coming, seems to him abrupt and fixable. Despite the film’s title, it’s not so much about his job. While the new job—presented here as both glamorous and silly—will grant him new money, new location, and new fame, it also leaves him in the same difficult position where he begins, alone and angry.
But he can’t anticipate that, and so he spends the movie attending to details both significant and ridiculous. His lack of self-confidence seems of a piece with his public identity as a tv celebrity, and what’s more, the guy for whom consumers a mix of envy and contempt. What kind of a job is the weather man, anyway? Standing on line at the DMV, Dave’s approached by a fellow customer who recognizes him from tv (“What’s up dude?”) and he tries to avoid the inevitable, pretending he’s not who he is. “You don’t have to be a dick,” complains the man on line (after seeing Dave’s vehicle registration form that does indeed confirm his identity). “Go work in a bank or something if you don’t want to be cool to people.”
“People recognize me sometimes,” Dave observes in his mournful voiceover. “They think they know me but they don’t.” The film’s investigation of minor celebrity doesn’t extend much beyond this moment, though it does underline the abuses Dave endures because of it. One running gag that becomes tired after the first instance has viewers tossing fast food items at him—shakes, French fries, little pies—apparently out of rage that he gets the forecast wrong. “It’s just wind,” he says more than once, by way of explaining his inaccuracy. “It blows all over the place.”
The movie makes this point repeatedly, casting Dave as a buffeted sort. His father, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist father, Robert Spritzel (Michael Caine), disdains him, thinking that what he does is somehow unworthy. The fact that Robert, also alone and angry, in a quieter way, is grappling with his own crisis leaves Dave at something of an impasse. He’s not used to looking after anyone but himself, and accompanying his dad to the doctor’s for tests leaves Dave looking incompetent again. When Dave is unable even to muster the correct change to get his father a newspaper, Robert looks at once perplexed and reassured: Dave is exactly the screw-up Robert believes him to be.
The film tends to take Robert’s view, mostly because it’s Dave’s as well. Still, Dave imagines the new job will allow him to rejigger his life. This despite and because of the fact that his ex-wife Noreen (Hope Davis) has a new boyfriend, Russ (Michael Rispoli). When he stops by their old house uninvited, she looks at him with worry, anticipating trouble, and in this moment, thanks to Davis, you glean a bit of their difficult history. When Dave insists that his new job will give them a chance to start anew, she reminds him that she and the kids have started their new lives, that the family unit is beyond second chances.
Dave’s son Mike (Nicholas Hoult) resents his father’s abandonment (flashbacks reveal that Dave was sleeping with weather “fans” before the divorce, spending more time at “work” than at home). And so the boy seeks support and solace with an obvious father-figure, his counselor, Don (Gil Bellows). The movie itself takes a turn into Dave’s profoundly unsubtle conception of the world when Don’s interest in Mike turns pedophilic (“Do you work out?” he asks, offering to shoot photos of the boy, shirtless).
If Dave can’t anticipate Mike’s trouble (because, this unsubtle movie suggests, he’s so wrapped up in his own, which is, of course, the same as Mike’s—the absent, disapproving father), he works overtime to appease his surly, frustrated 12-year-old daughter Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña). Looking to spend money, the one thing he knows he has, Dave offers her “lessons” in whatever she wants. In any case, she can take his money: almost as soon as he picks her up from school one afternoon, Shelly asks to be dropped off at a convenience store: “I need a notebook for school,” she lies, then steps inside to buy cigarettes instead. Eventually, Shelly allows that she might be interested in archery, but after Dave buys her gear and a lesson package, she begs off.
Now that he’s spent the money, Dave starts shooting arrows himself, learning the vocabulary and proper stance, appreciating the precision even in the face of wind. He begins to carry his bow with him on the sidewalk, a man suddenly proud, slow-motioned, and anachronistic, a walking metaphor. Believing he’s found a new sense of purpose, he arrives at a family gathering with bow and arrows in hand, asserting himself by point-of-view camera. Inevitably, he learns his own lesson from this episode, but The Weather Man never makes his trajectory as rewarding as he seems to find it.