Nicolas Cage is doing just fine.
The energetic actor, movie star, and meme muse is coming off one of the most lauded performances of his career in Michael Sarnoski’s Pig. He’s by all appearances a healthy and thriving 58-year-old man with nothing but sunny days to look forward to. And yet, his latest and most distinctly Cage-ian film, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, operates as a sort of midpoint career eulogy.
This ambitious action-comedy, which just debuted at SXSW, casts Nicolas Cage in his boldest role yet: himself. Sort of. The Nicolas Cage of Tom Gormican’s film is an actor in crisis. The devil on his shoulder (which is an uncanny valley CGI young version of himself he calls “Nicky”) is adamant that he lives up to his potential as a blockbuster movie star, even while Nic would be more than happy to play the quirky uncle in a Duplass brothers film.
That indecision about his career combined with his inability to connect with his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) lead him to a drastic decision. He opts to accept a $1 million payday from Spanish billionaire and Nic Cage fan Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) to fly out to Mallorca, spend some time with Javi, and perhaps even read his script. In a twist straight out of a, well, a Nic Cage movie, Cage is intercepted by two CIA handlers (played by a very funny Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) to infiltrate the cartel-connected Javi’s compound and perhaps even save a life or two.
If The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a mid-career eulogy for Cage, it’s definitely one delivered at a raucous Irish wake with the actor still very much alive. The film’s most endearing quality is an unpretentious and overwhelming love for the performer and his multi-decade career of bold decision-making. Gormican, who directs the film and co-wrote it alongside Kevin Etten, has acknowledged that there was no Plan B actor should Cage have turned down the project (which he apparently did several times before Gormican delivered him an impassioned letter).
The concept would likely work just fine if, say, Liam Neeson or Samuel L. Jackson were cast as themselves and played opposite Pascal’s fanboy character, but it would be missing a sincere passion that’s hard to duplicate. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is dotted with little nods, Easter eggs, and references to Cage’s previous work, which ultimately creates a fairly warm and inviting experience.
It also helps that The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is genuinely funny. The film does occasionally indulge in that Nic Cage Extended Universe-style callback humor a bit too much here and there. But when crafting its own big comedic set pieces, it shines. Cage and Pascal’s chemistry is impeccable with the two actors very clearly jazzed to be in each other’s presence. Pascal, in particular, is a delight. The tongue-in-cheek title of the movie could just as easily refer to Pascal and his sunny career prospects. Between this and his television work on shows like Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian, there are few other actors that can as easily engage with an audience as Pascal right now.
The movie also makes some space for two fun cameos, one near the beginning that should delight indie movie and comedy fans, and one near the end that should delight everyone else.
Despite all the good vibes generated from its Cage Party premise, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent falls short in some meaningful areas. For one, the movie’s attention to detail is frustratingly slight, even for a breezy comedy. Important events frequently occur offscreen and several characters’ arcs are never really concluded. The action portion of the film also really lags behind the comedy. A couple of mostly inert car chases is all that the modestly budgeted feature can muster and they mostly just serve to slow the jokes down.
Still, it’s hard not to be won over by Massive Talent’s pure love for its central massive talent. Hollywood has mostly resisted the novelty of actors-playing-themselves projects, and it’s never been entirely clear to me why. When deployed correctly like with Neil Patrick Harris (who plays Cage’s agent in this incidentally) in Harold and Kumar, or the Seth Rogen bunch in This is the End, it can be a real treat.
In the age of social media, movie fans have the opportunity to get more closely invested with their favorite actors. May all those actors be so lucky as to get their own Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent one day.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent will be released in the U.S. on April 22, 2022. It premiered at SXSW on March 12.