' Cinema Romantico: The Weather Man

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Weather Man

Here it is – proof that a witty, well-structured movie script can still be optioned and produced in Hollywood. Hard to believe, I know, but true. This is only the second screenplay by Steven Conrad and his first since 1993. Apparently, he was so disillusioned by the Hollywood process the first time around it took him this long to roust up the stamina to go through it again. Is this an omen which I should heed? Perhaps, but I’ll choose to ignore it.

This is a character study in the truest sense of the term. Nicolas Cage is in every scene in “The Weather Man”. In my screenwriting travails I often find myself doing the same thing with the lead role. I enjoy creating a character and following that character all the way through the script. It seems fewer and fewer movies do this. I don’t know if they’re afraid the audience’s attention will wane, or what, but it’s nice to see when it happens.

Nicolas Cage is David Spritz (changed from Spritzer) who is a local weatherman in Chicago. He works 2 hours a day yet makes vast amounts of money. This is typically why people throw things at him (usually from passing cars). He hates his job and the fact that he is only a weather man – not a meteorologist - and yearns for a promotion to the big leagues – in the form of the Bryant Gumbel show Hello America. But this is not all. He is recently divorced from his wife (Hope Davis) and his two kids have issues of their own. Plus, his father’s (Michael Caine) health is suffering.

Wait, you’re thinking, I’ve seen this somewhere before – career crisis, problems at home, an ill father, etc. How groundbreaking can this be? But, you know, when you stop and think about it, every storyline there is to do has already been done. By whom, you ask? William Shakespeare, of course. Every plot you’ve seen in every movie is – in essence – ripped off from the Elizabethean bard himself, so get over it.

But what’s ingenious is the way Conrad takes the conventions in the opposite direction of what we normally see in movies. The previews made it look like a black comedy, and it is to some degree, but it’s also poignant and truthful. David desperately wants to make things right with his wife, but both of them put the concerns of their kids above that attempt. Movies often have characters say they’re putting their kids first and foremost but then don’t back up that dialogue with action. That’s not true of this script. There’s real concern on the part of both parents, though sometimes they let their petty differences get the best of them.

I liked how Nicolas Cage’s daughter initially wants to try archery, only to quickly give it up – what kid doesn’t find some ridiculous new interest that only lasts for a brief moment in time? But David wants so badly for her to be happy he tries once more to renew that initial interest only to be rebuked again. Once he is, that’s the end of it. This isn’t a sitcom dad who won’t give up until hijinks have ensued.

I liked how Hope Davis’s new husband is not made out – in any way – to be a jerk. He’s a good guy. They didn’t make him the villain as so many movies do with “The Other Guy” (I direct you to “Wedding Crashers” in which Rachel McAdams’ boyfriend is demonized more and more in each scene that it got to the point where I was surprised it didn’t turn out he was actually the Dictator of a Latin American country).

At one point, Nicolas Cage punches the new husband, though no reason is given for this action. The voice-over even says so. Most scripts would insist on giving a reason for such a bold action but Conrad knows how rare it is for the real world to actually contain reason. Nicolas Cage doesn’t like him simply because he’s the new husband of his ex-wife.

Lingering over all this is David’s father. He’s the sort of guy who upon learning his son may have a lucrative endorsement deal with a pet company would say something like, “David doesn’t own any pets”. He’s self-involved, but not a bad father. He gets upset when his son fails to buy him a paper for a ride home from the doctor’s office but takes genuine concern in David’s daughter being called an unpleasant name at school.

At one point there is a funeral service for the father while he is still alive which is meant to be a means of catharsis for all involved. David gets up to make a speech, references a song, and then the power goes out. He never finishes the speech. But the father, after the fact, listens to the song, trying to make sense of what the speech was supposed to be. This leads to a conversation where the father – a Pulitzer Prize Winner – advises his son, “I practiced and got good at what I did – like you and your weather reports.” Is he proud of what his son does? Probably not. But is he proud of his son? Yes. That’s the rare jewel of screenplays, folks, you now see about once every locust plague (i.e. complexity).

Finally, David is called to New York to audition for Hello America and maybe he gets the job, maybe he doesn’t. I’ll let you find out. But whether he does or not isn’t necessarily the point. This script realizes the Hello America job isn’t a cure-all. Neither is a funeral service for a living person, nor a bow and arrow. There aren’t any cure-all’s.

How’s the acting? And the direction? Oh, it’s fine, I guess. Nicolas Cage has reached the point where he can do these roles in his sleep. Hope Davis and Michael Caine are good as always. The direction is solid. But, really, who cares? Who cares when you have such a magnificent script with characters drawn so damn well? My only hope is we don’t have to wait another 13 years for his next one.

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