Nicolas Cage has practically defied all expectations in just the last few years, jumping back and forth between beloved indie darlings and good old-fashioned B-movie fanfare. From his recent Oscar-worthy turnout as a recluse chef on the hunt for his precious stolen truffle hog in Pig to beating up killer demon animatronics with plungers in Willy’s Wonderland, there’s been a little something for everybody to enjoy. And for the true Cage heads, it’s been an absolute feast. Still, whenever a new idiosyncratic project of his gets announced, some dare to question Cage’s method of madness with comments like, “I guess he really is saying yes to everything nowadays.” Well, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – a film in which Cage plays a hyper-realized version of himself as a struggling actor – feels like both a celebration of his cinematic legacy and a direct response to such criticisms.
Cage has seemingly never found major issues in collaborating with smaller or lesser-known filmmakers as long as the story was always right, and this is once again shown with writer/director Tom Gormican. From the opening moments up until the very last frame, it’s clear how much of a shared passion project this was for the duo – an undisputed love for moviemaking radiates from The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, one that becomes even more infectious when an endearing Pedro Pascal is thrown into the mix. That’s the true beauty of the film, for starring and literally being about Nicolas Cage’s career, with nods to everything between Raising Arizona and Mandy, it just as much belongs to Pedro Pascal. Together, the two are a comedic match made in heaven.
After losing the role of a lifetime, Nicolas Cage is offered to attend the birthday of a wealthy superfan in his remote mansion on the Spanish Isles. In addition to failing as an actor, his damaged ego and self-absorbed obsession with cinema have also led him astray from his family. He impulsively tries to mold his teenage daughter into the ideal cinephile, forcing her to sit through German Expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari when all she needs is a father who is present outside of his own head. His need for financial stability to amend his fatherly image further prompts Cage to accept his superfan’s offer. Hitting this new all-time low, he sees no other option but retirement following his return from this extremely suspicious getaway. Though as Cage soon realizes, this admirer of his could reignite the spark that his life so desperately needs.
Seeing eye to eye on all things related to cinema, Cage and his #1 fan Javi (Pascal) decide to embark on writing a screenplay together. The would-be comeback for Cage, they aim to craft a real character study for adults – not some typical Hollywood sludge. At the same time, the CIA makes contact with Cage to inform him that his new best friend could very well be a wanted drug lord, leaving the superstar no choice but to go full method actor in infiltrating Javi’s operation. As the saying goes, life imitates art, for Cage’s warped spy games with Javi soon creates the inspiration for their big-time script and, more importantly, his passion for acting. It’s meta in all the right ways and, strangely enough, beautifully poetic when taking into consideration Cage’s real-life path as an actor. However, you don’t need to be a die-hard Cage head to really appreciate this film; it works just as well as an ode to moviegoing, and what’s not to love about that?
Meta comedy is rarely pulled off so effectively. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent shouldn’t be as hilarious as it is, calling out notable current trends like Marvel films and the decline of adult-oriented blockbusters, but unlike other recent attempts to jab at these topics, the film never comes off as obnoxious. Sure, it’s having a bit of fun with its callouts, though every piece of meta humor rolls out naturally. Nothing is ever referenced or made fun of just for the sake of edginess or cheap laughs. This also goes for the long list of references to Nicolas Cage’s entire career. Tom Gormican makes sure that his film doesn’t fall into the dangerous clutches of self-indulgent fan service (which is quite impressive for a premise like this) and he does so by backing up every choice with heart and purpose. The film’s many inside jokes and references never distract from the bigger picture; on the contrary, Cage’s gross-out comedy always adds more to this one-of-a-kind self-portrait, including the unhinged bits where he argues with a de-aged crazy version of himself wearing a Wild at Heart shirt.
There’s also a strong argument to be made that The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is the best film to fully utilize Pedro Pascal’s comedic potential. Pascal hasn’t really been allowed to go all-in with nothing but his wholesome charm up until now – no badassery or leading man machismo, just a humble, unapologetically caring dude who’s more than happy to be along for the ride. It’s here where he never has to worry about being too silly or expressive that Pascal is at his best, he’s simply pouring the most of his natural self on-screen. You wouldn’t guess how much you needed to see Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal bro-ing out over their love of cinema, but this is what makes the film so damn enjoyable. It’s hard to imagine another comedic pairing topping their camaraderie this year; their genuine brotherly bond feels like lightning in a bottle.
So much of the film’s humor lands right on target that it makes the lesser elements easily more forgivable. Even when the plot starts to veer into predictable and clichéd territory, which may be intentionally ironic to a degree given how Nick and Javi want to make an unconventional blockbuster, you’ll still be locked in for the rest of the ride. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent certainly feels like the type of mid-budget action-comedy that is in dire need of a theatrical resurgence – those that fully embrace their cinematic scale with confidence while also doing something totally original. To put it plainly, it’s got the makings of a definitive crowdpleaser, and it all comes together far better than you would expect by putting a heartfelt story above all else. But, of course, this tale of redemption finds a more special meaning through Nicolas Cage.
During a recent GQ interview, Cage cleared the air on why he was accepting an endless amount of roles throughout the last decade, some obviously more peculiar and open to public scrutiny. Debt and other personal issues played a part, yet “I never phoned it in” he says. “If there was a misconception, it was that. That I was just doing it and not caring. I was caring.” And The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent proves exactly that. The film couldn’t be a stronger statement on who Cage is as an artist and why he’s carried dedicated fans for so long. He’s a fan of cinema and storytelling first and foremost, fueling his drive to give every role his all, even when he’s playing a satirical version of himself. “Not that we went anywhere,” Cage constantly tells himself throughout the film, and by the time the credits roll, no matter what you thought of him prior, you’ll be convinced that Nicolas Cage has and always will be a bonafide movie star.