American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
We think of tragic heroes outlined against the horizon, tall and doomed, the victims of their vision and fate, who fall from a great height. "The Weather Man" is about a tragic hero whose fall is from a low height. David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) is a Chicago weatherman whose marriage has failed, whose children are troubled, whose father is disappointed, and whose self-esteem lies in ruins. "All of the people I could be," he tells us, "they got fewer and fewer until finally they got reduced to only one -- and that's who I am. The weather man."
There is nothing ignoble about being a weatherman, especially in Chicago, where we need them. David's fatal flaw (all tragic heroes have one) is that he does not value his own work. Perhaps his broadcast viewers sense that, which is why they throw fast food at him from passing cars. They sense that he has embraced victimhood, and are tempted. To feel inadequate is Dave Spritz's life sentence. His father Robert (Michael Caine) is a famous novelist who won the Pulitzer Prize, and who has always been disappointed in his son -- disappointed, we sense, at every stage of Dave's life, and by everything that he has done.
In Robert's mind, it's not that Dave is a weatherman, but that he is a bad one. He hasn't done the homework. He's not even a meteorologist. He gets the weather off the news service wires. "Do you know," his father asks him, "that the harder thing to do and the right thing to do are usually the same thing?" Dave has made life easy for himself, but Robert tells him, "Easy doesn't enter into grown-up life." Dave's life does indeed seem easy. He does the weather for two hours a day with hardly any preparation and makes the occasional personal appearance; we see him in costume as Abraham Lincoln.
This is one of those Nicolas Cage performances where he seems consumed by worry, depression, and misdirected anger. He often parks his car in front of the house he once shared with his wife Noreen (Hope Davis), his overweight daughter Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena) and his troubled son Mike (Nicholas Hoult). Noreen is now engaged to Russ (Michael Rispoli), and one day Dave slaps Russ in the face with gloves. Now what in the hell kind of a thing is that to do? Something he saw in a movie? Even Dave's grand gestures are pathetic.