The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent “a meta-comedy of ostensibly epic proportions”


To love Nicolas Cage doesn’t make you an underrepresented minority. For decades, his face on a movie poster was the key to worldwide ticket sales, though he’s more than just a global star. He has been called the finest actor of his generation, which is probably true. In his off years, he’s been jeered at as a guy who’d take any role to finance the purchase of a castle, or perhaps a choice dinosaur skull. Does he contradict himself? Very well then, he contradicts himself. He is large. He contains multitudes.

Unfortunately, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a meta-comedy of ostensibly epic proportions, is not nearly grand enough to embrace those multitudes. Cage stars as Nick Cage, a fictional version of himself who spouts lofty ideas about acting but who’s finding it harder and harder to land gigs. He’s also having family troubles: his teenage daughter (Lily Sheen) resents him, and his impending divorce from his smart and justifiably annoyed makeup-artist wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) has left him broke.

Fortunately, agent (Neil Patrick Harris) has a job for him: Spanish billionaire and superfan Javi (Pedro Pascal) will pay Nick to attend the birthday party Javi’s throwing in Mallorca. Incidentally, Javi has also written a screenplay—because someone has always written a screenplay.

Nick shows up on the island, hoping to do his bit and be gone in 60 seconds. But he and Javi end up forging a warm, manly bond, over LSD and a shared love for, well, Nick Cage. Their bro time is foiled by a duo of CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) who believe Javi is behind a high-profile kidnapping. Meanwhile, another version of Nick Cage—a much younger, Wild at Heart–era gonzo id with unpleasantly pearlescent CGI-de-aged skin—pops up repeatedly to remind the older Nick that he’s not a serious actor but a superstar, and he needs to start behaving like one.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, directed by Tom Gormican, who also co-wrote the script with Kevin Etten, name-checks one Nicolas Cage film after another, weaving in memorable quotes along the way. Is Face/Off your personal favorite? Represented! Are you one of those Cage completists with a fondness for Guarding Tess? Gormican’s got you! Clearly, the audience is supposed to hoot and holler every time they recognize a Cage reference, which will be often. This is less a movie for actual watching than one for making noise.

But poke beneath the aggressive fun of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and you’ll find a depressing act of redemption that doesn’t really need to happen. The media has recently made much of how Nicolas Cage is back, after a too-long period of making not-so-hot movies for a paycheck. (Last year he gave a terrific fine-grained, hard-nosed performance in Michael Sarnoski’s small-budget Pig.) We already know that Cage—with those soulful-rabbit eyes, that voice like olivine velvet—can do just about anything. And so his willingness to join in this not particularly daring act of self-mockery should surprise no one. This is absolutely a movie For the Fans, maybe because nobody knows who to make movies for anymore. But instead of leading us to a place beyond ourselves, it only confirms our ability to identify things that gave us pleasure in the past. It’s the dinosaur skull we want, and buy, leaving greater needs unmet.

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Is The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent real?
Unfortunately, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a meta-comedy of ostensibly epic proportions, is not nearly grand enough to embrace those multitudes. Cage stars as Nick Cage, a fictional version of himself who spouts lofty ideas about acting but who’s finding it harder and harder to land gigs.

What is The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent rating?
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent / MPAA rating
Image of What is The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent rating?
‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ 3.5 stars
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Tiffany Haddish. Rating: R for language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and violence

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent: The Nicolas Cage Experience Goes Meta

Just before the turn of the century, Sean Penn uttered damning words about his erstwhile best friend Nicolas Cage. To wit: “Nic Cage is no longer an actor. He’s more like a performer.”

This many years later, if you offered me the choice between a Sean Penn movie and a Nicolas Cage movie, with no other information, I’d automatically go full Cage. Even if it was the worst movie Cage ever “performed,” you know he’d be all in.

(It is not for nothing that, during filming of The Bad Lieutenant – Port of New Orleans, in lieu of yelling “Action!” Werner Herzog would supposedly yell at Cage, “Release the pig!”).

And truly, his is the more interesting career. This is true both of his life (short-lived marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, his weird real estate purchases, naming his kid Kal-El) and career choices – which in recent years have ranged from straight-to-video action films, to cult darlings like Mandy, the bizarre meteor-movie Color Out of Space, or last year’s cruelly overlooked and weirdly contemplative Pig. 

Cage has always been in on the jokes. That much is clear in the meta-comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, about a barely-working erstwhile star named Nick Cage, who is so desperate to pay his bills, he accepts a gig to be paid $1 million to attend the party of a reputed Spanish arms dealer.

The movie is both an exercise in self-mockery and a spoof of both Hollywood and the kind of movie Cage might take to pay the bills.

It’s not an entirely new concept. Jean-Claude Van Damme did it in 2008, playing himself in the quite good French-language JCVD, as a washed-up action star who finds himself in a real-life we-need-a-hero situation, with unexpected results.

But that was Van Damme. This is Cage. The two meta-movies are as different and specific as fingerprints. 

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent introduces us to a Cage who is a raging narcissist, who drunkenly hijacks attention at a birthday party for his teenage daughter (Lily Mo Sheen), exasperates his ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) and actively kills his own career with his intense desperation for roles that were already his had he not freaked everybody out.

Meanwhile, he’s haunted by frequent disapproving visits from the ghost of his digitally-younger, punkier self (circa Valley Girl I think).

Enter Javi (Pedro Pascal), a rich, jovial fellow who lives on a massive seaside compound in Mallorca, Spain with a huge staff and security, and who happens to be the world’s biggest Nick Cage fan. The party invite is sincere, though there is an ulterior motive. Javi is a wannabe script writer and wants to make his mark writing a Cage film.

If Javi is a murderous criminal, he hides it well behind his solicitousness and humble demeanor. Nonetheless, Cage is contacted by a couple of CIA agents, Vivian and Martin (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) who tell him he’s being feted by the kingpin they’ve been trying to nail forever, and who they believe has kidnapped a politician’s teen daughter. 

Cage, thus, is urged to build on his friendship with Javi to provide cover for a rescue, with endless script meetings over wine and, at one point, creatively juiced with LSD.

In essence, director Tom Gormican gives us a typically antic spy farce/buddy comedy, with great scenery (it was shot mainly in Croatia) and a plethora of career references – Con Air, Gone in Sixty Seconds, “Not the bees!” from The Wicker Man, and repeated call-backs to Cage’s favourite film, the 1920 silent German psycho-thriller The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

If the last act makes it look like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is actually becoming what it spoofs, there’s a curveball there too.

At the least, it’s a feast for people who’ve never fallen out of love with the Nicolas Cage experience.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Directed by Tom Gormican. Starring Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal and Tiffany Haddish. In theatres Friday, April 22.