In recent years, it has become increasingly popular for films to wink at the camera with an eye of self-awareness. But I don’t know if there will ever be a film that takes a more meta-approach to its filmmaking than The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
With Massive Talent, star Nicolas Cage has created a story that is fantastical, autobiographical and action-packed all rolled up into one.
It’s also an utter delight from start to finish.
Directed by Tommy Gorcan, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent follows Hollywood icon Nicolas Cage (playing himself) as he struggles to balance his career and personal problems. Crushed under the weight of his enormous debt and divorce settlement, Cage finds himself taking on roles that are not up to his self-imposed standards in order to pay the bills. When he gets an offer to make an appearance at a rich fan’s birthday party for a hefty $1 million pay check, his ego is insulted by the request but his debt forces him to take the gig. When he arrives, he is drawn to his charismatic benefactor, Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) who wishes nothing more than to write a screenplay with his idol. However, Cage soon discovers that his wealthy host may not be as innocent as he believes and the actor becomes embroiled in in a CIA plot that requires the real-life Cage to step into action.
Featuring a wonderful cast that includes Neil Patrick Harris, Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish, the majority of the cast are working to set Cage up to steal the scenes. Even so, it’s also worth noting that the best performance may lie with Pedro Pascal. Playing Cage’s potential best friend (or super-villain) throughout the film, the relationship between these two characters holds the film together and provides one of the best onscreen bromances we’ve seen in recent years. With energy and enthusiasm, Pascal is easily as gleefully over-the-top as Cage here (and that is not an easy task to manage). Simply put, they are absolutely wonderful to watch on screen.
For fans of Cage though, Massive Talent will feel like the culmination of the last three decades of his career. Once considered a massive box office draw due to classic action films like Con Air and Face-Off, Cage’s own real-life financial issues caused him to take a step back from the limelight in order to pay off his own colossal debt. As a result, Cage chose to take on endless streams of straight-to-video films that began to veer into increasingly stranger and stranger projects. For many, this could be a career death sentence but, for Cage, it has had the opposite effect. Starring in titles that included the brutal Chuck-E-Cheese satire Willy’s Wonderland, the wild horror Mandy, the faith-based Left Behind and many, many more have made him somewhat of a legend on the indie market.
What’s more, Massive Talent feels as though it’s being written for the fans while it unfolds in front of them. As Cage and Javi piece together their dream project, so too do we understand that the film is doing the same. Debates about how the third act should unfold affect the storytelling in hilarious ways. Is it a character-driven drama? An action film? With hilarious results, Massive Talent attempts to figure this out yet never loses itself along the way. (‘You have to have something for everyone if you want people to go to the theatre’, the film laughs.)
Although the fictional Cage may not have stopped working (much to the chagrin of his estranged family), the projects he has chosen are smaller in scale, leaving him with a certain sense of anonymity. Fans have begun to wonder where he has gone, even if he repeatedly reminds them “that he [never] went anywhere“. In this way, Cage’s willingness to self-parody his own experience as a megastar gives Massive Talent an added layer of reality that truly gives it life. While we know the film is fiction, it almost feels like a glimpse inside his Hollywood diary.
We know that this isn’t really Cage… but is it?
Underneath the goofiness, this is very much a film about what it takes to be a man in a world of hyper-reality. Massive Talent serves as a reminder of the humanness of celebrities as they battle personal issues that lie beyond the weirdness of Hollywood and expectations of fans. Shown here as a self-centered narcissist that’s constantly distracted by his phone, Cage’s determination to get back on top is destroying his family. His commitment to validate ‘Cage the Star’ is eating away at the relationships that matter most. (In fact, in some of the film’s most hilarious moments, Cage argues with his younger self about whether or not he is satisfied with his role as a consistently working actor or whether he deserves to be a megastar.) Fictional Cage has become lost within his own ambition and his world is falling apart as a result. As celebrity culture and rabid fandom can take stars like Cage to the highest of heights, it can also cause you to lose your soul in the process.
How can you know who you really are when you are trying so hard to be the one that everyone expects?
Fueled by a world of image obsession, Cage’s self-satirical coming-of-age in this film is that he begins to re-discover the relationships that are most important to him and the sacrifices that may need to be made in order to restore them. This emotional journey gives Massive Talent a much-needed soul that grounds the film, even in its silliest of moments.
Hilarious, heartwarming and self-effacing, it goes without saying that The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is one of Cage’s best roles in years. In a love letter to his fans, Cage’s willingness to poke fun at his own Hollywood image feels genuine as he explores the toxicity of Hollywood on the male ego. What’s more, it’s also a reminder that (maybe) Nicolas Cage is back.
Not that he ever really went anywhere at all.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is available in theatres on Friday, April 22nd, 2022.