Though heavy angst has traditionally been reserved for the socially displaced, the casualties of white male privilege have mounted in recent movies, including Michael Douglas in Falling Down, Edward Norton in Fight Club, and Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. Joining these men on their journey from malaise to anger to varying degrees of psychosis, Nicolas Cage's put-upon hero in The Weather Man doesn't seem a likely fit for a straitjacket. For doing nothing more than jovially reading the forecast (an actual meteorologist predicts the weather) for a Chicago newscast, Cage makes $240,000 a year, plus appearance fees. He owns a swank downtown apartment and a two-story in suburban Evanston, and he works about two hours a day. But with his marriage in shambles and his two children following troubled trajectories, Cage does what no toothy local broadcast personality should ever do: He becomes aware of his own superficiality.
Short of having a rain cloud follow him wherever he goes, director Gore Verbinski and screenwriter Steve Conrad do everything they can to make Cage a pitiable louse, and they wind up pushing too hard. Dysfunction shrouds every corner of his life: He's separated from his wife (Hope Davis), who's seeing a sensitive schlub (Michael Rispoli) ready to be his replacement, his obese daughter (Gemmenne de la Peña) wears too-tight clothes and smokes, and his son (About A Boy's Nicholas Hoult) hangs out with a drug counselor who harbors disturbing feelings for him. But the roots of Cage's shame lie with his father Michael Caine, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose long shadow—as a man of substance and integrity, as well as a family man—hangs over his son's hollow existence. When Caine comes down with terminal lymphoma, Cage tries desperately to spit-shine his wrecked life, but his efforts lead him to the breaking point.
Echoing the father-son relationship in Quiz Show—with Ralph Fiennes' dashing fraud pleading for the approval of Paul Scofield, his respected intellectual father—the scenes between Cage and Caine are by far the film's most affecting. The two men don't seem to share the same gene pool, which only helps their dynamic, as Cage's nervy uncertainty smacks hard against Caine's cool self-possession. Their powerful interactions bring focus to the catchall miseries Verbinski and Conrad attach to Cage's life, though even those are leavened by a welcome streak of mordant black comedy. In one hilarious running joke, viewers occasionally pelt Cage with milkshakes, Big Gulps, hot apple pies, and other junk food. It's only when he realizes that he'd probably hurl them at himself that the full dimension of his pathetic existence really sinks in.