The UK posters for The Weather Man inexplicably advertise it as A Comedy To Brighten Your Day. The US trailer is similarly deceptive, blasting Iggy Pop’s upbeat singalong The Passenger for its last 60 seconds while portraying several feel-good moments which in the movie do not feel good (for another example of trailer deception see The Shining redux). Though it contains many humorous ironies, it is hardly a comedy in the usual sense. It might be considered comic in the classical sense if its catiously stoic ending could be extrapolated as “happy.” But I don’t think it’s surreal enough to be stereotyped even as a “dark comedy”, and that’s why I think it is one of the best movies of the year: though this is artistically accomplished The Weather Man is heartbreakingly realistic.
It is Cage’s most naturalistic acting, without the gimmicks of Adaptation, the manic ticks of Matchstick Men, or the irrepressible charm of Lord of War. Cage never tries to make you like his character despite his faults; he is likeable exactly because he is absolutely pathetic. His unending series of screw-ups, no matter how avoidable, make him sympathetic. The disappointment after disappointment experienced by Cage, often of his own doing, feel not contrived but uncomfortably credible.
Michael Caine also gives a complex performance. The trailer highlights his criticism of his son, but though he is sometimes hurtful to Cage, however unintentionally, he has genuine concern for both his son and grandchildren, and that concern is the cause for his equally genuine embarrassment and disappointment, which leads to the criticism.
The movie feels like a short story, with moments of crisis from ordinary situations and a few surprising plot choices, but they seem organic rather than clever. The problem facing his daughter has an element of rude humor to it but is too sad and widespread a problem to laugh at. Similarly, Cage’s pathetic attempt to cuss out his ex-wife’s boyfriend would be comic relief in most movies, but our understanding of his frustration and the wide camera angle turns us into spectators of a tense moment awkwardly made public, and we feel the shame he heaps on himself.
Other family afflictions are, like the weather, partially out of his control, such as when his unavailibility as a father opens the door for a gut-wrenching menace to threaten his son (the star of About a Boy who has grown a couple feet in three years). It all adds up to the frustration that builds in him — like an upperclass Travis Bickle — but has no release until he adopts some cathartic activities, like archery.
Speaking of catharsis, Verbinkski even manages to turn a cheesy Bob Segar song into a tearjerking moment. And speaking of Verbinski, he seems to be on a genre-conquering roll, having mastered arty horror (The Ring), action adventure (Pirates of the Carribean and sequels), and now drama-with-humor (the adjective “humorous” seems too flippant).
Finally, one of Verbinski’s most striking accomplishments might seem minor but I think is fairly major. For a movie with a good deal of strong language, The Weather Man is the only one I can remember in which every obscenity has bite. It’s the first time I’ve ever “felt” the language in a movie, because every curse word is uttered in such desperation. So that’s just another factor which I think contributes to it being one of the most successful dramas in recent memory, whether “serious” or “comic”.