Steve Conrad is a writer/director responsible for one of the best TV shows out there, Patriot. It’s subtle, it’s funny, it’s not afraid to live in a moment. This got me thinking about other Steve Conrad projects and I decided to check out a little movie from 2005, The Weather Man.
Steve Conrad has the ability to write complex stories around what is essentially little plot. The only plot happening in this movie is a local Chicago weatherman wants to become a big-time national weatherman. That’s it. That’s all that happens. But in reality, there’s so, so much more goodness to dive into. This post will contain spoilers.
“What kind of name is Spritz? It’s a bullshit name. It’s a TV name. He’s bullshit. He’s an asshole. I don’t like his asshole face.”
Written by Conrad and directed by Gore Verbinski, The Weather Man stars Nicolas Cage as David Spritzel, a weather man for a local Chicago news channel. It’s one of his more subtle performances and a good one at that. David shortened his last name from Spritzel to Spritz, on the advice of an old colleague. A stage name, if you will. It goes over really well with this audience.
“I receive a large reward for pretty much zero effort and contribution.”
David has a life many would admire. He makes low-to-mid six figures a year, he lives in a big loft overlooking downtown Chicago, and because he’s on TV, he gets laid plenty. But it’s not all sunshine and casual hookups for David. Because being on TV also means people hate him. As evidenced from this drive-by frosty…
… and this nugget assault…
… and this falafel attack…
… and this soda travesty…
… and this soft taco pelting…
… you get the idea.
“You’re a champion asshole. You’re a real blue ribbon fuck.”
David also has a hard time being a part of a family. He’s divorced from his wife, his fifteen-year-old son Michael (Nicholas Hoult) just got out of rehab, and his daughter Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña) who is twelve, has taken up smoking cigarettes. His inability to not fuck up constantly has created a divide between them, especially between him and his ex-wife, Noreen (Hope Davis). While in a class to try and mend their relationship, David and Noreen participate in a trust exercise where they are tasked with writing something hurtful they feel about the other person and the other person promises not to read it.
Which David of course fails right away by reading the letter. Not because he’s a dick but because he’s an idiot. He thinks if he just knows what Noreen had a problem with in their marriage, he would be able to fix it and get back together with her. Instead, it rightly pisses her off.
This is pretty much where we start with David Spritz, caught between what some would call an enviable life and what he himself believes isn’t good enough. He strives for more. Specifically, he strives for the weatherman job at the nationally syndicated morning news program Hello America with Bryant Gumbel. It’s a huge pay raise and national attention. It’s all he could ever want.
“But you just read the weather.”
Well, technically, he thinks it’s all his father could ever want. See, David is constantly trying to impress his unimpressible father Robert (Michael Caine) by dropping hints about possibly being one of the finalists to become the next weatherman for Hello America. But his father doesn’t quite understand why what he does for a living is such a big deal. He’s not an asshole, David’s father, he’s just a rich intellectual and as such, doesn’t live in the real world with the rest of us.
It’s an obvious body blow to David. The reason his father is nonplussed about his son’s job, is because Robert won the National Book Award when he was twenty-eight and won the Pulitzer when he was thirty-three. Whereas David just keeps getting beaned with fast food, mostly.
Bad news comes fast and heavy in this movie as David’s father is diagnosed with lymphoma. This hits David hard. All he wants is for his father to say he’s proud of him and it’s the one thing the old man refuses to do.
“I thought David’s science fiction novel or whatever it was was stupid and sucked and was a waste of time.”
David is also a part-time novelist. After all, if your father has the kind of accolades Robert Spritzel has, how can you not be at the very least a good, passable novelist? But, David’s a shit one if we’re to believe Noreen’s note she wrote for the trust exercise. And while it might seem harsh, that was the point of the exercise. David’s not supposed to read it… ever. But since he breaks the rules and does read it, Noreen decides to read his, only to find out the biggest thing that bothered David about their relationship was her lack of enthusiasm in the oral sex department.
His attempts to reconnect with his daughter don’t go much better. Encouraging his daughter to try new things, David asks what she’d be interested in doing and she chooses, confusingly, archery. After one failed attempt to learn the sport, she gives up.
So, David takes her to a company picnic where they have three-legged sack races on an ice skating rink. It’s as hazardous as it sounds, because David and Shelly fall pretty early into the race. Despite being last, David encourages them to finish because there’s a lesson about not giving up. However, not giving up causes Shelly to tear her ACL/MCL.
“Do you ever get called names? Like ‘dummy’ if you miss a question… or ‘camel toe’?”
A desperate bit of good news pops up when David is told he’s one of the finalists for the Hello America job. He’s going to go to New York and audition. He takes his father and daughter with him. While in New York, David takes Shelly shopping for new clothes. This comes from David learning that little Shelly is being called names at school. One name is particularly harsh. The cause of Shelly’s unfortunate nickname is her ill-fitting pants, of which she owns many. David has the idea of skirts and dresses, which Shelly takes to as cool, New York style. Shelly gets her own Pretty Woman makeover… you know, without all the sex work.
It’s the day of David’s big audition! He goes into the Hello America studios and crushes it, impressing the brass with his ability to maneuver his way around a green screen weather forecast. Things are looking up!
But don’t worry, life shits on David right away when he learns his father only has a couple months to live. There’s nothing that can be done about his advancing lymphoma.
If all that weren’t enough, David’s son Michael is getting into trouble he isn’t even aware of. After getting out of rehab, he runs into one of his old counselors and they strike up a sort of friendship. And by friendship I mean, the counselor goes all creepy on him by buying him stuff, making him dinner, and asking him to take pictures shirtless so Michael’s new weightlifting regimen can be compared with before and after photos. It’s not until the creepy counselor tries to go down on Michael (don’t worry, this happens offscreen) that he realizes what he’s gotten himself into and he throws a rock through the creep’s car window, causing his own arrest.
“If you want your father to think you’re not a silly fuck, don’t slap a guy across the face with a glove.”
Once back home, David gets into a tiff with a friend of Noreen’s. A guy who’s been staying with her and helping out around the house. His name is Russ (Michael Rispoli) and David hates him. He hates him so much, that while Russ is telling David what happened with Michael, David calmly takes off his gloves and slaps the guy across the face like he’s a “nineteenth century nobleman” challenging another to a duel. Feeling down about himself in general, he goes home and deletes his manuscript.
“When I think of my dad, I think of Bob Segar’s ‘Like a Rock’.”
With time ticking away, David’s mother Lauren (Judith McConnell) decides to throw David’s father a living funeral, inviting all his friends to come and share in Robert’s company one last time. Just before, David gets a call… he got the job. He’s going to be the weatherman for Hello America. He can’t wait to tell Noreen. This is it, the thing he’s wanted for so long, the thing that’s going to fix his marriage and his family. The one thing that’s going to make everything okay.
That’s when David finds out his ex-wife is marrying Russ.
To take his mind off things, David goes out to shoot his bow and arrow. (He kept at it after Shelly lost interest.) After considering murdering Russ with said bow and arrow, David goes inside to give his speech for his father’s living funeral. He gets one line into it when the power goes out. And once it’s restored, forty minutes later, everyone goes about the party, forgetting that David was even saying anything. He never gets to finish his speech.
“I mean, I’ll bet no one threw a pie at like… Harriet Tubman.”
After getting smacked with a McDonald’s hot apple pie, David takes stock of his life. Rather, he takes stock of all the things he’s been hit with. You know who gets hit by pies? Clowns. He comes to the conclusion that everything he’s been bombarded with is all fast food. Delicious but no substance. Just like David. He is fast food.
Determined to be something more appetizing, he gathers up the stuff the creepy counselor bought for his son Mike, and goes to his house to beat the shit out of him. And that’s what he does. He beats the shit out of that creep.
“That’s quite an American accomplishment.”
Returning home, David is surprised by his father. He’s confused as to what David meant when he said he thought of a Bob Segar song whenever he thought of his dad. As they listen to ‘Like a Rock,’ Robert seems to realize the weight of it. David always saw his father as a rock. He was strong as he could be. Nothing ever got to him. David tells his father he got the Hello America job. Robert comments on how David’s new salary is more than he ever made.
Robert notices David’s smashed-up hand from beating down that creep. David says he took care of it and Michael’s not in any more trouble.
And there is it. The thing David has been chasing for, presumably, most of his life. A good word from his father. Shortly afterward, Robert dies.
So, David goes to New York to do the weather and he goes home to Chicago on the weekends to be with his kids. Look, there’s someone else married to his wife, living in his house, he’s not happy about it, but he’ll take what he can get. Because after all, he’s just a guy who carries a bow and arrow around New York city, talks about the weather, and rides the Hello America float in a parade. As he says, “That’s where I live. Behind Fire Brigade 47, okay… But in front of Spongebob.”
That’s the story of a man who set his mind to something and then did it. And that is quite the American accomplishment.