Now streaming on:
It’s 1997. I’m eleven years old at a sleepover where I tell all the girls my favorite actor is Nicolas Cage and I can’t wait to see “Con Air.” My three favorite movies are “Moonstruck,” “Raising Arizona,” and “Honeymoon in Vegas.” A year earlier, my parents took me to see “The Rock” and “Face/Off” in theaters despite their R ratings. To be a Nicolas Cage fan of a certain age is to have extremely personal memories like this that crossover into your own autobiographical story.
That’s precisely what “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” director Tom Gormican and his co-writer Kevin Etten understand about the connections fans have with Cage. From this emotional symbiosis between fan and actor, the filmmakers craft a metanarrative that also explores the relationship between the actor and his on screen persona through the lens of the ever shifting goals of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking.
When the film began with a scene featuring a teenage girl referring to Cage as a “fucking legend” while watching the 1997 action film “Con Air” that culminates in her kidnapping as Trisha Yearwood’s “How Do I Live” crescendos, I knew I was in good hands. Cut to Cage playing a fictionalized version of himself called Nick Cage cruising down Sunset Blvd blaring CCR on his way to a meeting with a director (played by “Joe” director David Gordon Green) at the Chateau Marmont.
Neurotic Cage collides head on with Hollywood clichés as he grasps for the “role of a lifetime” while his personal life is in shambles. Divorced from his make-up artist wife Olivia (the always stellar Sharon Horgan), failing to connect with his 16-year-old daughter Addy (Lily Sheen, daughter of actors Michael Sheen and Kate Beckinsale), and owing $600k to the hotel where he’s currently living, Cage takes up an offer from his agent Fink (Neil Patrick Harris) to appear at super fan’s birthday in Mallorca for a cool million.
The affable Pedro Pascal plays up his own ultra-likeable persona as billionaire super fan Javi Gutierrez, olive-exporting magnate who may also be an international gun runner. Pascal is all of us as his grin never seems to fade around Cage, he’s just that happy to be around the man behind the myth. What could easily be a fan service cipher in lesser hands is buoyed by Pascal’s layered, emotional performance. A scene where Pascal shares a personal story about how bonding over the 1994’s Shirley MacLaine comedy “Guarding Tess” helped him patch things up with his dying father is hilarious, but also taps into a great truth about the power of film—any film—to transform lives.
Even the CIA agents tasked with taking down Javi’s criminal empire, played with perfectly balanced comic seriousness by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz, have differing points of reference when they spot Cage at the airport and decide to turn him into an asset. The breadth of titles in Cage’s filmography means he’s both the guy from “Moonstruck” and “Face/Off,” but also gives Haddish’s agent an opportunity to distract him long enough to place a tracker on him while explaining how much her nephew loves "The Croods 2." Truly an actor with something for everyone.
Sticking Cage in a plotline straight out of one his action films like “Gone In 60 Seconds” or “National Treasure” could easily begin to feel like a gimmick, but the filmmakers pull from every corner of his filmography to craft something transcendent. A poolside breakdown harkens back to Cage’s Oscar-winning performance in “Leaving Las Vegas.” His chemistry with Pascal as the two begin working on a screenplay together keeps the film grounded in character over plot, real emotions over artifice.
In a surreal twist, Cage further flexes his acting chops a la “Adaptation” playing the dual role of Nicky (where he’s credited by his real name: Nicolas Kim Coppola), a grotesque ghost of his past self, styled like the outre characters he played in “Wild At Heart” and “Vampire’s Kiss.” Nicky is always there reminding him he is a movie STAR, not just an actor working on his craft or a father patching up a rough relationship with his daughter. Always these multiple aspects of himself wrestle inside Nick, stunting his ability to grow into the man he needs to be for his family right now.
These fictional Cages offer the real Cage the space to marvel at his own mythmaking, the real impact he’s had on his fans, and a showcase to remind Hollywood of his range. This is an actor equally as capable of performing in popcorn fluff and voice acting in family-friend animated films as he is tapping into the madness of “Mandy” or the melancholy of “Pig.” Filled with easter eggs for fans of any facet of Cage's career, the filmmakers don’t place a judgment on which of his films have the most value, understanding that a favorite film is intimate and personal, and that what matters is that it does resonate on some level.
Even amidst all this meta-commentary on contemporary filmmaking, the mechanics of Hollywood, and the emotional heft of fandom, Cage the man always knows what is expected of Cage the myth. In “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” he finds the perfect synthesis of the two, and in turn delivers one of the most complex, yet crowd-pleasing performances of his career.
This review was filed from the SXSW Film Festival. The film opens on April 22nd.