“Whether you like it or not, you have a gift.”
Nicolas Cage is one of the greatest actors that has ever lived. And to match this singular, legendary man, his reputation is unlike any other actor. He’s critically acclaimed and Oscar winning yet has appeared in a dearth of straight-to-VOD movies over the last decade. His money troubles were infamous but widely misunderstood, his personal eccentricities are only matched by his bizarre business decisions, and he is known by a very large percentage as the most meme-able actor to ever live. It’s this final part that made me wary of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Since the script started doing the rounds, I knew it would be fun. But I began to worry that Nic would be the butt of the joke, like so many impressions and SNL skits before. The man himself is game and has accepted his ascension to Meme God with good humor. But I didn’t want a movie that felt like it was written by r/OneTrueGod moderators, and I didn’t want that for Cage.
But The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is not that film. It’s a love letter to the man, made by people who see him as the peculiar but extremely talented artist that we Cagephiles have been shouting about for years. And it’s a love letter to cinema, to the power of film, and it champions this love—in the same way that Cage has been vocal about throughout his career. And it’s very, very funny. Cage is not the butt of the joke; he’s helping to tell the joke, to contextualize the fable of Cage that we all know, and prepare us for the next phase of his wonderful career.
Nicolas Cage plays Nicolas Cage, albeit a fictionalized version of himself. He’s facing serious money troubles and is struggling to land the roles that he feels he deserves (including a starring role as a Boston hard-man in the next project from Joe director David Gordon Green). He’s also struggling with his ex-wife and teenage daughter (Sharon Horgan and Lily Mo Sheen), who have been side-lined by his career and giant personality. Facing financial ruin, Cage reluctantly agrees to one last job; a million dollars to attend the birthday party of billionaire Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal).
This is Cage’s film, obviously. But it wouldn’t work without Pedro Pascal. The majority of the story focuses on their budding friendship, and Pascal is phenomenal. If you’ve followed Pascal in the news or watched interviews, or even seen him on social media, you probably realized that he’s a funny guy. But his role here as Javi is lightyears away from the badass Mandalorian gunslinger that he’s probably most famous for. The two of them have instant chemistry and make one of the best on-screen bromances that I’ve ever seen. They talk about films, and their shared love of old German expressionist cinema, as well as the more recent masterpiece Paddington 2. The film’s central conceit hinges on you liking Javi, and Pedro Pascal is maybe the most likable guy working at the moment.
But Javi has a dark side. When Cage arrives at Javi’s island compound, he’s quickly tracked down by two CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz). They tell him that Javi has made his wealth as an arms dealer and is currently holding the daughter of an anti-crime politician hostage, to swing an upcoming election. Cage is soon recruited to investigate his new best friend. And he must use every skill he’s learned as a Noveau Shamanic thespian to save the day.
As the film unfolds, it becomes increasingly meta. Superfan Javi has written his own Nicolas Cage screenplay and the pair begin working together on the project. The film they’re making becomes the one we’re watching, as it moves through different genres and subverts the tropes. Along the way, there are lots of different references to Cage’s vast oeuvre and I was very pleased that I understood nearly all of them (I now need to watch Guarding Tess). There are references to some Cage deep cuts too, like the underrated Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
Cage is also plagued by visions of his younger self; a smooth-faced loudmouth named ‘Nicky’, based on Cage’s very famous appearance on Wogan back in 1990. Nicky wears a Wild at Heart t-shirt (David Lynch’s excellent road movie in which Cage starred as Sailor Ripley) and constantly berates the older version of himself for not being a proper movie star. He’s not just an actor, he’s ‘Nick FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKING Cage’ he declares. As the film goes on, Cage grapples with this younger version and is forced to come to terms with his legacy and decide who he wants to be going forward. Is the old, wide-eyed Cage dead? Maybe not, but don’t expect more front flips and shirtless interviews.
But the film isn’t just for Cage aficionados. As Javi and Cage agree when planning their film-in-a-film, it needs to have something for everyone. At its core, it’s a buddy action-comedy, and unless you have a real hatred of the guy (and why would you) then I think you’ll have a good time. It kind of feels like the sort of film that they don’t make anymore, and I can’t remember the last time I saw something like it at the cinema. It’s got an indie movie’s sensibilities at times, but with big belly laughs.
One of the greatest to come out of this film is that it’s got Nic back on the talk-show circuit and in the public eye. His interviews show that he is a very smart guy, with a huge love of cinema and joy in what he does. He is someone who I truly believe could read the phonebook and make it interesting. But I think it’s also dispelling a lot of the myths around Cage. He’s eccentric, but he knows it more than anyone. And he’s more than happy to regale you with a ‘Cage Story’.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is Nicolas Cage writing his own legacy and taking control of the narrative that has arisen about his life over the last 15 years. Unlike the fictional version of himself in the film, he’s a star again. With some very exciting roles coming up, he’s being invited to all the big parties and Hollywood is all the richer for it.
As Javi says, the man will outlive us all. And I can’t wait to see what he does next.