I missed this film when it first came out, and, due to it not being particularly well reviewed, was in no rush to see it. I have only got around to it due to having watched "The Family Man" a while ago, and remembering how much I love watching Nicolas Cage in stuff, and so added a load more to my lovefilm list. And he doesn't disappoint again. In fact, I think this is one of his greatest performances.
The acting is superb throughout this film, with the one bad spot being Michael Caine's appalling effort at an American accent. It's such a small attempt, he gives up trying sometimes, and when he does do it, it makes you cringe. Other than that though, his performance is excellent, as Cage's disappointed father. He's disappointed with David Spritz (Cage), as is everybody else, most of all Spritz himself. He does 2 hours of work a day, and picks up a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year for it. He's a weather man, but he's not even a meteorologist. He hates that there is a high degree of variance, which means the predictions he makes can't even be relied upon. So if his predictions are unreliable, and that's all he does, then what use is he?
His conclusions about himself aren't happy ones, unfortunately, but what he thinks of himself is probably still nicer than what his ex-wife, played by Hope Davis, thinks of him. They have two kids, a fat unhappy daughter and a son who has had drug problems, and is assigned a counsellor, but has the bad luck to get a dodgy pervy one who wants to take photos of him topless.
Spritz gets a shot at getting one of the top weather jobs, on daytime US network television, which would mean relocating. He harbours dreams of reuniting his family and starting again elsewhere, an idea not wholly embraced by his ex who plans to marry someone else. It's this common feeling of "if only" that this film demonstrates so well. If only he could get this better job, then maybe everything else will fall into place. I'm very familiar with that feeling, and even if we know it can't possibly fix everything, or maybe even anything, the magic fix is a delusion we're often happy to entertain, as the alternative involves lots of hard work, and possibly unending unhappiness.
Another issue Spritz is wrestling with is the gradual wasting away of his potential. Sure, he's doing well, but you can only take one path in life, even if it's a meandering one. When it's all potential, the possibilities are endless. When you actually go through life, no matter which choice you make, you automatically discard all other choices. The possibilities are whittled down to one, even if you choose right. And nobody can choose right all the time. Eventually, all the possible you's are whittled down to just one you. And that's all you're left with. You.
It's a messy film, with no obvious plot lines, and mixing humour and sadness to the point you can jump from one straight into the other. Messy, then, kind of like life. I confess to laughing and crying (yes, how sad is that. And I'm not prone to crying at films, it's probably happened about three or four times ever, but Cage and Caine, sitting in a car with a song by Bob Segar playing in the background, made it happen) in this film, although there's no doubt it's more drama than comedy. Billed as a comedy, this was a crazy idea by the production company. Talk about false advertising. You want a comedy, you would hate this, as lots of people seem to have done. It's the same as About Shmidt, one of the most depressing films I've ever seen. However, if you want a film about the human condition, and what it means to find happiness in the world, and maintain relationships with your family, filled with terrific dialogue, fantastic performances, sparkling direction, tears, laughter, and the sense that anything could happen, then it's worth a go. You can continually think you know how a scene is going to pan out, and you will be continually wrong.
Steve Conrad's intelligent script is a joy - there's a love of language, a love of the unexpected, and a love of life. I try and write screenplays, and this is one I'd love to have written. Maybe I feel I loved this film so much because I didn't have much in the way of expectation, but this is one of the best films I've seen for a long time. I can't believe the negative ratings it gets. In a time of boring films by numbers that Hollywood puts out, in between reboots and remakes and sequels and prequels, this is something special, and I'm gutted it doesn't get more respect for that. This is a courageous and sparkling piece of filmmaking, that I already want to watch again. A film that can create tears of laughter and tears of sadness, sometimes only moments apart, is an excellent film indeed. Possibly even a great one.