It can’t be easy being Nicolas Cage. It’s probably the reason the film wasn’t called The Unbearable Lightness of Being Nic Cage. Every time he delivers a performance that the critics rave about e.g. Pig, people are quick to exclaim “Nic Cage is back!” – not that he went anywhere (as he is keen to stress repeatedly during the film). In fact, despite acting for forty years, out of the 110 films he has starred in, over half of them have been in just the last fifteen years. Those supposed film fans who claim he hasn’t done anything great in years are clearly not paying attention: just most recently, Cage has delivered fantastic turns in the likes of Mandy, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and Color Out of Space.
This is truly a man who has seen his public persona crushed by the unbearable weight of his massive talent. He is undeniably a fantastically gifted and talented actor – he is also, should you need reminding, an Oscar winner. After his turn in Leaving Las Vegas, Cage rounded out the 90s as an unexpected action star with the likes of The Rock, Face/Off and Con Air. It was at the height of his fame that rumours and general interest in his personal life begun to overshadow his on-screen existence. Audiences and filmmakers alike begun to wonder, who is the real Nicolas Cage?
So when Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten approached him to star in a movie as “himself”, he was understandably hesitant, to the point where he turned it down three times before accepting. Exposing yourself to that level of public scrutiny, even if fictionalised, could be daunting. Would people understand that this was a heightened version of himself? Would they laugh with him, as opposed to at him?
Movie stars have wilfully sent themselves up on the big screen before. His co-star Neil Patrick Harris in Harold and Kumar, Hugh Jackman in Night At The Museum 3 and more recently, Keanu Reeves in Always Be My Maybe. However, those were cameos; The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent was a full film. Comparisons could be made with Being John Malkovich and JCVD, both of which were well received and did wonders to showcase a different side to the actors’ public personas. For the man who made Left Behind, how bad could it really be?
When we meet “Nick Cage” at the start of the film, he is a man at rock bottom. He’s just blown his opportunity at a “game changer” of a role (with a cameo from Halloween director David Gordon Green), he’s more or less separated from his wife (Sharon Horgan), he finds himself all-but estranged from his daughter (Lily Sheen) and to top it off, he gets locked out of his hotel room for owing them $600,000. He is forced to sink to the ultimate act of degradation – making a paid appearance; but on his way to a $1 million payday for attending the birthday party of wealthy businessman Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), Cage finds himself accosted by two CIA Agents Vivian and Martin (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz). They want Cage to spy on his host, who they claim is a notorious arms dealer.
It’s often said that you are your own worst critic. In Cage’s case, his greatest critic is a younger version of himself named Nicky (and credited under his original name, Nicolas Kim Coppola) who appears as the infamous “Wogan Cage“. Nicky is appalled enough by Cage’s desire to become a character actor – the idea of taking small roles like “the gay uncle in the Duplass brothers’ next student film” is baffling – let alone working as a spy. Whether he likes it or not, Cage is a movie star! Before long though, eldest Nick decides to stop listening to Nicky and embrace his role as an informant (after all, it’s just like acting) in the hopes he might become a real hero for his daughter to look up to.
What follows is the Point Break of meta comedies, as Cage and Pascal dance around each other whilst developing the most delightful bromance. Pascal, who is riding a wave in popularity thanks to The Mandalorian, is an absolute delight as Javi. At times, he does well to deliver a steely edge in keeping with his character’s mysterious background but, whenever he is alone with Cage, the façade crumbles to reveal a giggling fangirl. And while every scene between the two actors is an absolute delight, an acid-fuelled road trip in search of inspiration for a film project to collaborate on together is a particular highlight.
The trailers promised a comedy, but what was unexpected is how much heart the film has. His burgeoning friendship forces Cage to re-evaluate his life, his love of acting, and the relationships to those around him. This results in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent becoming something much more profound, sweet, and tender than anticipated.
It’s very clear that the filmmakers have immense respect and admiration for Cage and he absolutely delivers, leaning into the eccentricities of his personality whilst tapping into his own, previously unseen vulnerability. As an aside, has anyone ever won a major award for playing themselves? Nicolas Cage could well find himself in a position where he accepts a Golden Globe and must thank himself as the inspiration.
This film is not only a meta-commentary on Cage and his career, it also leans into a broader critique of the state of cinema today. Cage bemoans the fact that all he wants to do is make “an intelligent film for grown ups,” lamenting that unless you are a Marvel or Star Wars movie, you need a “hook to get people into the cinema”. Echoing the structural planning of the two friend’s fictional screenplay, the film evolves into something that feels like the third act of a Bruckheimer production. While some might feel it debases itself to pander to a broader audience, or that it loses sight of statement of intent, they could not be more wrong. Gormican and Etten’s screenplay is sharp and agile enough to anticipate any and all criticisms, meeting them head on and subverting them to phenomenal effect.
The end result is a wildly entertaining and hilarious film that doubly works as the ultimate tribute to National Treasure. As much as one tries to put the bunny back in the box, this is one massive talent you simply cannot Cage.
Nicolas Cage is back for good… not that he ever went anywhere.
The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent is in cinemas from April 22nd.