The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent : Review

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Nicolas Cage. His personal life aside (we’re not here for that), the man is a legend. Say what you will about the man’s prolific output, his choice of whacked-out roles, or his ability to turn it up to 11, but he’s an Oscar-winning actor recognized the world over for his memorable performances. From being one of Jeff Spicoli’s sidekicks in Fast Times at Ridgemont High to The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, an absolutely gonzo dissection of his legacy and influence, Nicolas Cage has been… 

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… well, Nicolas Cage. A man who defies description, definition, and expectations. As recently seen in an Ask Me Anything on Reddit, he’s an incredibly astute, intelligent man who takes his art and artistry as serious as a heart attack. He wields a dazzling, superlative wealth of film knowledge as his guide for his performances and role choices, and it’s almost unthinkable that he’d agree to star in a movie that sends up his film pantheon and his public persona while holding the man in the highest regard. But when you’ve played almost every role and given every performance your all, what else is left other than to examine yourself and lay it bare for moviegoers?

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It’s a fine line between overt parody and dramatic seriousness that writers Tom Gormican (who also directs) and Kevin Etten walk, and they walk it with knowing confidence. With Nicolas Cage as both their muse and their star, they take care not to just throw the kitchen sink at him and walk him into absurd situation after absurd situation. Here, they take a more time-honored approach: The Actor Becomes The Real Thing, similar in respects to JCVD from 2008.

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Surprisingly enough, the film’s plot and story are quite tame, all things considered. The circumstances which kick it off aren’t even that uncommon, as we first see Nick Cage (Nicolas Cage playing a fictionalized version of himself) meeting director David Gordon Green for a role that will certainly change his life. He needs it, especially as he’s losing his family by being blithely self-centered and losing his stature in the public eye, as his imaginary, Red Rock West-era younger self (credited to his real name, Nicolas Kim Coppola) tells him at various points in the film.

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But after being denied the role, he sinks to a point where he tells his agent Richard (Neil Patrick Harris) to send out a press release saying that he’s retiring from acting… but not before he accepts $1,000,000 to appear at billionaire Javi Gutierrez’s (Pedro Pascal) birthday party in Mallorca, Spain. And when a CIA team tells him that Javi is, in fact, a ruthless, violent arms dealer who’s kidnapped a girl, Nick reluctantly accepts the job of infiltrating Javi’s fortress-like compound to save the day.

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Sounds fairly innocuous, right? It’s not like we’re unfamiliar with the kind of movie this is going to be. But Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal take it in such terrific directions that it’s impossible not to root for their bromance. Javi doesn’t just want Nick out there for a lark, just to have someone from Hollywood at his party; it’s revealed that Javi’s Nicolas Cage fandom borders on the insane. Javi reveres him in a way that would seem absolutely around the bend, especially because he’s got money to buy various mementos from Nicolas Cage movies. (Especially The Beast from Mandy!) And the best part of it all: Javi’s written a script specifically for Nick.

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Throughout this review, there are three Nicolas Cages mentioned. There’s Nicolas Cage, the actor who agreed to make this movie and follows the script; there’s Nick Cage, the role Nicolas Cage is playing; and there’s Nicky, the de-aged version of Nick who serves as a sort of conscience-slash-Jiminy Cricket… only a whole lot more figuratively hairy. Seriously, at one point during one of Nicky’s pep talks, Nicky and Nick wind up full-on kissing, and it’s one of those unforgettable moments in cinema where you can’t tell if you’re put off, intrigued by this action and the implications of their body language, or laughing at the preposterousness of the situation. And you have to wonder how Nicolas Cage dealt with how that was presented to him on the written page.

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This is one of those movies that is WAY outside the box, even though it uses time-worn plot devices and tropes to seat us comfortably. But, like every Nicolas Cage film, it is in watching the actor do what he does best – immersing us in what he has named his “Nouveau Shamanistic” performance technique – that makes or breaks this film. No, you needn’t worry… it makes this film. 

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Under no circumstances could any other actor pull off what Nicolas Cage pulls off here. There’s a certain sense of self-awareness, but not a joking, Wes Craven’s Scream kind of self-awareness that Nicolas Cage plays with, and he puts his all into making sure that he doesn’t cross over into Airplane!-type slapstick. Sure, there are some moments written specifically to take advantage of the kinds of maudlin, exaggerated, “Grab my hand!” kind of sequences we’ve seen him in before, but even those he plays with excellent tact and spirit.

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Opposite him for much of the movie is Pedro Pascal, whose lovable goof Javi is our avatar. Really, what wouldn’t you give to go on adventures with Nicolas Cage if you had the money to have him as your guest at your palatial estate? Gormican and Etten write Javi as the audience perspective, someone who respects the man and his work without one shred of snark or vitriol. There’s a lot of is-he-or-isn’t-he surrounding Javi, and it’s used to play him up brilliantly against Nick, creating a feat out of plying us with simultaneous tension and affinity.

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When it comes down to it, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a hangout movie, showing two people getting to know each other and having a good time doing it… even if one person thinks the other is a cold-blooded, murdering bastard. Having Nicolas Cage’s consent and willing participation in a film like this is a gift beyond all value, something we haven’t seen and something we won’t see ever again. Any other film that tries what Tom Gormican and Nicolas Cage have done here will be mere pretenders to the throne, pale imitations of what is sure to be regarded as quite possibly the greatest meta-film in cinema history. Few actors have the filmography, the mystique, or the legend to back up what The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent does, making it a singular piece of action/arthouse cinema that, much like Nicolas Cage himself, defies definition.

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and violence.
Running time: 107 minutes.
Released by Lionsgate.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Rating

4.5

Few actors have the filmography, the mystique, or the legend to back up what The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent does, making it a singular piece of action/arthouse cinema that, much like Nicolas Cage himself, defies definition.