The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
The one and only Nicolas Cage plays himself — and gloriously so — in this gleefully adoring and enjoyable action-comedy.
April 21, 2022
"Nic fuckiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing Cage." That's how the man himself utters his name in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and he knows what he's about. Now four decades into his acting career to the year — after making his film debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High under his actual name Nicolas Coppola, playing a bit-part character who didn't even get a moniker — Cage is keenly aware of exactly what he's done on-screen over that time, and in what, and why and how. He also knows how the world has responded, with that recognition baked into every second of his his latest movie. He plays himself, dubbed Nick Cage. He cycles through action-hero Cage, comically OTT Cage, floppy-haired 80s- and 90s-era Cage, besuited Cage, neurotic Cage and more in the process. And, as he winks, nods, and bobs and weaves through a lifetime of all things Cage, he's a Cage-tastic delight to watch.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is Cage uncaged, busting out the jazz that is his acting and adoring it, and it's a self-aware, super-meta love letter to its star and all who stan him. It's also a feature that couldn't exist without the thespian who has everything from Guarding Tess and Captain Corelli's Mandolin to The Croods and Pig on his resume; replacing him simply wouldn't work. Again, it's a Cage gem in letting Cage devotees revel in Cage doing every kind of Cage. That said, this Cage comedy is also so overtly designed to inspire Cage mania that it's easy to feel the buttons being pushed. It's the Cage movie that the internet has willed into existence, or film Twitter at least. Case in point: it has Cage realise that Paddington 2 is one of the best movies ever made. It is, but given how well-accepted that is, and how much online attention has stressed that fact — including its once-perfect Rotten Tomatoes score — weaving it into this Cagefest is one of the film's many exercises in stating the obvious.
There is narrative around all that "Nic fuckiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing Cage" and his marmalade bear-loving epiphany. Here, the man who could eat a peach for days in Face/Off would do anything for as long as he needed to if he could lock in a weighty new part. The fictionalised Cage isn't happy with his roles of late, as he complains to his agent (Neil Patrick Harris, The Matrix Resurrections), but directors aren't buying what he's enthusiastically selling. He has debts and other art-parodies-life problems, though, plus an ex-wife (Sharon Horgan, This Way Up) and a teen daughter (Lily Sheen, IRL daughter of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen). So, he reluctantly takes a $1-million gig he wishes he didn't have to: flying to southern Spain to hang out with billionaire Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal, The Bubble), who is such a Cage diehard that he even has his own mini museum filled with Cage memorabilia, and has also written a screenplay he wants Cage to star in.
Yes, writer/director Tom Gormican (Are We Officially Dating?) and co-scribe Kevin Etten (Kevin Can F**K Himself) task the always-likeable Pascal with playing The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent's on-screen audience surrogate. If you're watching a movie with Cage as Cage — one that begins with a clip from Con Air at that — then you'd likely jump at the chance to spend time with the inimitable figure. Who wouldn't? But that's just one element of the story, because two CIA agents (The Afterparty's Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) inform Cage that his new pal is an arms dealer who's keeping a politician's daughter hostage to sway an election. And, they want him to indulge his host — undercover as himself, naturally — until they find the girl. The next key aspect of the tale: during this ruse, Cage and Javi genuinely become CBFFs (Cage best friends forever), including while working on a screenplay about new buddies who bond in chaotic circumstances.
If The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent could only be described by referencing a different Nicolas Cage movie — and just one, despite how many references it throws at the screen like it's a Vampire's Kiss-style Cage cavorting in the street — it'd be Honeymoon in Vegas. The 1992 rom-com boasts an ever-watchable Cage performance as most of his work does, but it formulaically flirts with rather than matches his level. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent wants of be plenty of other Cage flicks, though, giddily and entertainingly so; however, the film itself can't meet his most memorable fare. In a Moonstruck-esque move, it's as enamoured with its leading man as he is with Cher in that 35-year-old gem. It plays its core bromance with Wild at Heart-level passion, and covets The Rock-style action mayhem. Cage is unforgettable as Cage here in a dream part for him and viewers alike, but striving for Raising Arizona's madcap antics, Adaptation's multi-Cage movie-industry metaness, Color Out of Space's full out-there Cage and everything in-between is a big ask.
How glorious it is that this is the end result, though: a movie that's so unashamedly Cage, more than anything else has every actively tried to be, and yet also isn't quite Cage enough. It's still engaging and amusing enough, but it's noticeably broad and easy with its jokes, and too content to coast by on the nonstop, blatant-as-can-be Cageness of it all. Again and again, that made-for-the-internet feeling twinges, as if Gormican has fashioned a meme of a movie stitched together with gleefully retweeted and reposted Cage clips in mind. While The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent isn't an ego-stroking vanity project — a hefty achievement — or filled with anything but pure Cage dedication, it's the film equivalent of getting a casual line reading from its main man when you know what wild wonders only he's capable of.
Indeed, as enjoyable as all this Cage-as-Cage-satirising-Cage is (Cage cubed, basically), the film is also workmanlike beyond the committed Cage and Pascal — both of whom light up the frame with off-kilter portrayals, make their characters' camaraderie feel authentic, and would shine together in a buddy comedy that isn't 100-percent Cage worship. There's fun and oh-so-much nostalgia for the Leaving Las Vegas Oscar-winner's career highs, lows and everything else, but there's also laid-on-thick cheese and little depth. While riffing on its central figure is the aim of the game, it's light when it comes to incisively skewering Hollywood, how it treats talents as distinctive (and massive) as Cage, and why his fame has taken the rollercoaster ride it has. But this sunnily shot, bouncily paced, well-intentioned affair definitely does the two things it needs to above all else: goes all-in on Cage, albeit not to a Mandy-esque degree, and makes everyone only want to watch Cage's work from now on.