Nicolas Cage is a household name. The actor has been active for 40 years, and he is still so present that at 58 he is getting a metafilm about himself. Although Massive Talent (or The Unbearable Weight or Massive Talent elsewhere, far better titles) works better as a buddy comedy than as a tribute to actors, even though he’s the pinnacle Cage again here.
Cage fanatics, there’s more to it than you think. I only know three of them (hello, our very own Nils, Lisa and Aron!). Therefore Nic Cage is an actor who cannot simply be included or even defined. A film star in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, blockbuster classics like Face/Off, National Treasure and Con Air, but after that he couldn’t find the right project. He then moved on to the indie world, where his roles were often sharper and, frankly, more whimsical. Mandy, Color Out of Space and one of my favorites from last year, Pig, prove that Cage is still around. And of course he’s also the king of the internet phenomenon.
If you accept weirdness, you’d better go all out, Cage thought. However, Cage turned down the role several times when writer and director Tom Gormican (Ghosted) offered it to him. It was only after she had sent him a letter that he was sure that it was not an insult in disguise but a compliment.
In Massive Talent Nick Cage (note the different spellings) has an identity crisis. She definitely wants to land a very interesting role, but also has financial problems due to her recent divorce. So Cage was kind of desperate and did a really intense audition for the director, but alas. He didn’t get the role and actually wanted to stop acting, but felt compelled to accept the presence of Javi Gutiérrez (Pedro Pascal), a wealthy fan, on his island.
But it’s also not all smooth sailing. A pair of CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) create a file against Javi, who turns out to be an arms dealer who kidnapped the daughter of a Catalan presidential candidate to influence elections. They tell Cage to go undercover and gather evidence. It’s only after a rocky start that Nick and Javi hit it off, who in addition to liking Cage, shares a common sense of film. Was he capable of such atrocities?
Tone roller coaster
For a casual Cage admirer like me, Massive Talent is a strange creature at times. The first part of the film introduces us to this version of Nic Cage. Only the casual viewer might not really be able to tell this version of the actor persona apart. I’ve seen some of his work myself, but don’t really know what he’s like as a celebrity, let alone as a person. This Nick Cage really doubts his life and career. The tone is often like serious character study in the first 20-25 minutes.
Besides, the humor in that section doesn’t do much more than that. In his car, for example, Cage is joined by his younger self from Wild at Heart, but the sincerity of what happened earlier makes it feel awkward rather than funny. Not to mention the spooky rejuvenation they apply. If that was also meant as a joke, it definitely didn’t occur to me.
Luckily for the film, things got better after that. When the CIA recruits Cage, he tries to help them Johnny English-wise, which makes for some fun scenes. And then almost halfway through, the makers realized that the real plus of this film lies in the interaction between Cage and Pedro Pascal. The film may be about Cage, but Pascal steals every scene he does. Javi gets the opposite treatment from Nick. At first he seems like a caricature of a fan with a dark side, but he gets deeper once you empathize with him. It also improves Nick’s balance. In this way, Massive Talent became what it was meant to be from the start: a comedy of friends.
Because not everything is as it seems, and someone wants to get rid of Nick Cage. So he has to work with Javi to stop it. The highlight is the sequence where the duo have taken LSD (don’t ask) and think they’re in for a thriller. This film should have had more of a tone, but the chemistry between the two actors makes the rest of the film incredibly entertaining and sometimes downright beautiful. The central duo does get good material, but the actual comedians are lacking. Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz are super cute in The Afterparty, but here, despite their charms, few can do it. Sharon Horgan (The always great Disaster, Singing Club) seems the same as the former Cage at first, but she does a lot more towards the end of the film.Also, the meta references to Cage’s career become more meaningful as the film progresses. In terms of production, the location is sometimes a dream. Something else to dream about: Pedro Pascal’s summer costume and a casual hairdo. Yes, sorry guys, but the eye also wants something. And if that wasn’t enough, Massive Talent can also admit that it’s not the best film ever, because that’s what Paddington 2 is all about. Self-knowledge is also worthy of my respect.