What does it truly mean to be a celebrity on a global level? What does that recognizability, especially for those with boisterous personalities, do to an actor’s psyche as the shine starts to fade?
It’s a nuanced examination that comes from the most unlikely of places, a zany surreal action dramedy where former A-list actor Nicolas Cage takes on perhaps his most challenging role: himself.
With The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Cage showcases every side of his acting persona, cranking up the volume of his “Cage-yness” to 11 in a performance that’s incredibly neurotic, exceptionally thought out and cerebral, yet quintessentially heartfelt and emotional in a way only the Academy Award winner could.
The film from writer/director Tom Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten is a cinematic love letter to Cage’s illustrious and exotic film career, taking audiences on a journey with Nicolas as he battles his inner demons and quite literally talks to his younger self in a wonderful homage to True Romance, the most Nicolas Cage film he was never cast in.
Talent finds this fictionalized Cage on the brink of retiring from acting following another failed audition when an invitation (and million-dollar incentive) to attend a wealthy businessman’s birthday party in Mallorca, Spain, leads Nick to bond with Javi over vintage German horror films upon his arrival and begin to develop a movie idea together, all while covertly working for the CIA.
The incredulous nature of the story, while often going to the brink of inexplicable, works amazingly well simply because Cage commits so fully to the fantasy world Gormican and Etten have crafted that viewers cannot help but be carried along for the ride of R-rated hijinks, deep philosophical conversations, and increasingly meta diatribes about the art of screenwriting and hooking audiences into watching a movie.
Even though the entire film veers into the surreal, there’s a subtle through-layer of Cage working through his own struggles with his public persona and how “out there” he gets in his films leaking into his private life. In a way, Talent is the perfect opportunity for Cage to fully free himself from the crazed 90s action star persona and continue a career revitalization that began with last year’s Pig.
It’s also so easy to fall in love with this wonderfully strange version of Cage because of how genuine Pedro Pascal’s adoration of Nick pours out in every moment of his performance as Javi.
Cage and Pascal have a vibrant chemistry that makes silly interactions over the common love of a children’s movie, or an LSD trip feel whimsical and lighthearted rather than completely ridiculous. The affection both actors have for each other seeps into every aspect of their performances and from the 30-minute mark onward, the best parts of the film are Cage and Pascal’s random conversations that could have nothing to do with moving the plot forward, but are riotously entertaining nevertheless.
Sharon Horgan and Lily Sheen as Cage’s fictional ex-wife and daughter are solid in smaller supporting roles that help ground his performance as a struggle between career and family, while Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz as two CIA agents pushing Nick to spy on his new friend have some funny moments but are largely just filler to flesh out the incredulous story.
Gormican doesn’t muddle the frame with big explosions or fancy camera tricks in an homage to Cage’s action roots, but Talent does have a fast pace thanks to exceptionally witty dialogue and the joyride audiences go on is generally smooth despite his relative lack of experience behind the director’s chair.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a phenomenal, quirky love letter to one of Hollywood’s most eccentric fan favorite actors and Cage’s winning performance paired with terrific chemistry opposite Pascal make this unlikely buddy dramedy a major surprise hit in theaters for 2022.