Nicolas Cage Makes a Movie


People have been saying for a while that Nicolas Cage is quite the character. Here is a man who owned castles in Europe, was bailed out of jail by Dog the Bounty Hunter, named his son Kal-El, bought a $300,000 dinosaur skull that was stolen in Mongolia, owns a shark and a crocodile, and has not just one albino king cobra, but two. His performances are often even more over-the-top than Cage’s own larger-than-life existence, with countless memes and quotes spawned by his cinematic histrionics.

He’s a character, alright, so it’s only fitting that Cage would play the ultimate character on-screen — himself. The actor’s career has come full circle in a sense, like an ouroboros, or one of his beloved snakes eating its own tail. His very first appearance as an actor (and Crispin Glover’s, as well) was in a TV show about ‘real teenagers’ called The Best of Times, in which he plays himself, a teen named Nicolas goofing around before getting serious in the most ‘after school special’ kind of way. Now, 41 years later, he’s playing himself again while making a fake film in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and times have certainly changed.


Nicolas Cage is Nick Cage

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent opens with Cage in a situation unfortunately familiar to the actor — he’s broke. He’s auditioning for a role he actually wants, but a part of him knows that he won’t get it and that he’ll end up instead getting the part that pays a quick million but degrades his skill and soul just a bit more. Except, this big paycheck is a bit of a different gig for the actor. He’s hired for the birthday party (like a clown) of a very rich man with a wannabe screenplay and a crime family.

It seems humiliating and pathetic at first, but the island vista Cage goes to (and the free drinks) become pretty inviting, and soon Cage is talking movies and drinking whiskey with the millionaire, Javi Gutierrez. Just when the two become buddies, however, Cage gets intercepted by the CIA, with an agent informing him that Javi’s gangster family has kidnaped a girl as a political prisoner, so of course Cage gets roped into being a kind of investigative spy on the Gutierrez family as he sticks around and works on a movie script with Javi. As they drink and drop acid together, the two develop a script about Cage and Javi hanging out and becoming friends while working on a script, and Cage introduces the plot device (“a hook”) of a kidnaped girl; before long, real-life starts to seem very much like a movie.

Nic Cage takes a selfie with Tiffany Haddish in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

It should be evident by now that The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is hyper-meta, postmodern, and utterly ridiculous, but also one of the best action comedies of the past two years. This meta framework is always a brilliant technique because when things get very stupid (as they sometimes do here), it can always be said that this was the intention and that the stupidity is a commentary or a parody. It’s become an occasionally cheap trick ever since Brecht broke the fourth wall in 1922, but this new film from director Tom Gormican milks it for everything it has, and the results are surprisingly tasty.

Cage’s Career

Cage’s career is ostensibly the driving force behind the film’s narrative, or at least its binding glue. Audiences will have a difficult time parsing out just where the line is between ‘Nick Cage’ as a movie character and the actual Cage. Both have been married and divorced a number of times, both like to drink, both are avid car lovers and movie buffs, and both take most jobs they can get because both have blown vast amounts of money on lavish lifestyles.

Related: 12 Best Nicolas Cage Films, Ranked

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent opens with a similar scenario to Cage’s actual life over the past decade, as the actor faced difficult struggles with the IRS. Liens upon his property and foreclosure on his homes, overdue federal income taxes, lawsuits from banks and from (and against) his business manager, and a bevy of tenuous financial decisions put Cage in a tough spot. The actor went from making over $40 million in one year (2009) alone to “taking roles left and right to pay off his debts,” as CNBC put it; as a case in point, Cage made six direct-to-video movies released in the span of a single year.

Cage has confirmed that he’s officially finished paying off his debts, meaning he will be extremely selective in his future roles, and will probably appear in fewer films like Jiu Jitsu and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. One of those roles was for the acclaimed independent movie Pig, which was his most lauded performance in over a decade, and one which many felt was snubbed at the Oscars. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is another of his highest-rated live-action movies and one he produced, though he “turned it down three or four times,” as he tells The Hollywood Reporter, but eventually conceded after a passionate letter from Gormican, the director.

Nic Cage points his two Face/Off guns in in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

It’s a good thing, too, because like Pig, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is drowning in the weight of massive acclaim, what with its rare 100% Rotten Tomatoes score (as of March 31st). It’s a wildly fun and often silly movie that practically anyone can enjoy, although cinephiles and fans of Cage’s filmography, in particular, are sure to get the most out of it. The film is overflowing with a love for cinema, from its myriad mentions of other classics to its countless references to Cage movies. Scenes, lines, and imagery from a variety of Cage films are interwoven into Gormican’s picture, including Face/Off, The Rock, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Gone in 60 Seconds, Guarding Tess, Mandy, Leaving Las Vegas, and The Wicker Man. It makes for both a great drinking game and a fascinating career retrospective.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

The movie is directed with a great sense of energy, as Gormican mimics the styles of certain Cage movies while maintaining his own consistency with a sun-drenched and breezy approach that never takes itself too seriously. The pacing and editing is as quick as a Nic Cage best-of reel, but Gormican’s script with Kevin Etten finds ample time for small bits of humor. The script benefits greatly from being written specifically for Cage, using certain turns of phrase and verbiage which taps into the actor’s unique and often bizarre line readings.

Nic Cage plays a young version of himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Cage is, of course, fantastic here. Part of what people loved about Pig was how much it reminded them that Cage is one of the greatest living actors today. Yes, he can ham it up to the extreme, such as in Vampire’s Kiss and The Wicker Man, but his particular brand of ham is hardly spam — it’s choice cut, deliciously memorable, and sometimes utterly transcendent, as in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Bringing Out the Dead, and Wild at Heart. He is also a brilliant dramatic actor, winning his Oscar for a devastating performance in Leaving Las Vegas and deserving others for Adaptation (another great meta-comedy), The Weather Man, and Joe.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent allows Cage to manifest every facet of his acting career (and sometimes literally), equally drawing from his dramatic acting chops, great comedic timing, and bonkers moments of weirdness. He’s funny when he needs to be and a tongue-in-cheek action star when required, all while bringing a certain poignancy and definite authenticity to the role of a man past his prime who feels that his career and his relationship with his daughter are coming to an end.

Related: Nicolas Cage Has One Question About Internet’s Obsession With Him: ‘Why?’

The rest of the cast is great, including Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz as CIA agents, Sharon Horgan as Nick’s ex-wife, and Neil Patrick Harris as his agent, but they are all extremely underused. There seems to be some wasted opportunities here (though the alleged director’s cut may rectify this), but after all, this is essentially ‘The Nic Cage Show,’ so it isn’t exactly uncalled-for. Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), on the other hand, is truly endearing as Javi, turning a supposed crime lord into a charming, excitable, loving man who just wants Cage to be his best friend. The chemistry between the two makes for a really winning and warm pair.

Cage’s Massive Talent, Redux

Nic Cage lowers his red sunglasses by the water in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Movies where actors played themselves (or fictionalized versions thereof) are hardly new — This is the End, Being John Malkovich, Cold Souls, My Name is Bruce, and I’m Still Here all do this very well, and some vanity projects (like Charlie Sheen’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III) do it somewhat poorly and with hubris, but all do it for mostly different purposes than The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Although Cage literally makes out with himself in the movie, it’s hardly a vanity project. Self-referentially meta as it may be, the movie is ultimately less interested in being an intellectual exercise, a gimmick, or a stroke of the ego, than it is in being a genuine crowd-pleaser, a sweet homage, and a reboot of sorts for Cage’s career.

People discuss reboots and legacy sequels paving the future of movies, for better or worse, quite a bit, but it’s rare that actors get one for themselves. The oft-misused Fitzgerald line about there being “no second acts in American lives” applies doubly to actors in the spotlight most of the time, who tend to disappear when negative things come out about them, they’ve repeatedly bombed at the box office, or when they’ve become cemented as typecast.

Nic Cage laughs while Pascal sulks in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

After a dozen years of forgettable direct-to-video movies and cookie-cutter action flicks, it may have been safe to assume that Cage would have fizzled out and gone down the drain like a flat, formerly carbonated beverage that had lost close to all of its taste. However, with back-to-back success stories like Pig and this film, and a newfound absence of debt, it seems that Cage’s career is bubbling up again; he’s making movies now, not just working. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent ends with a standing ovation, and like much of the film, it’s both fact and fiction, a part of the movie and a part of its response.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent will be released in theaters on April 22.

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