The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

The first thing you need to know about Nicolas Cage playing Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is that he’s playing a fictionalized version of Nicolas Cage.

Yes, the Nic Cage (the character) of Talent is also the same Nic Cage who starred in The Rock, Face/Off, Moonstruck and even Guarding Tess. But his personal life has been modified considerably. No failed marriages to Patricia Arquette or Lisa Marie Presley. No son named Kal-El. No $150 million debt he had to pay off by starring in one shitty clunker after another. Not even a mention of him getting in a scuffle with Vince Neil in Vegas. (Google it.)

Much like when Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman had John Malkovich play himself as a paranoid movie star who has Charlie Sheen as a best friend in Being John Malkovich, the filmmakers behind this rowdy, meta ride got a big name to take the piss out of himself without plumbing too deep in his personal life for punch lines.

This Nic Cage in this universe is a struggling has-been with an ex-wife (Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan) and a daughter (Lily Sheen) who’s growing more and more tired of his lack of parenting skills. His agent (briefly, Neil Patrick Harris) hips him to a $1 million offer to attend the birthday party of Spanish billionaire — and Cage die-hard — Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal). A bottomed-out Cage accepts the offer after deciding to retire from acting. Even though the pair develops quite the bromance, Cage soon has to spy on his new pal when two CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) inform him he’s a kingpin who’s holding a politician’s daughter hostage.

Yes, Talent is just as berserk as it sounds. Working from a script he co-wrote with fellow sitcom vet Kevin Etten, director Tom Gornican amps up the manic action, giving us wild moments like Cage and Pascal, high on LSD, brainstorming a script while running away from people they think are following them. Cage and Pascal do make an impressive pair of sensitive, kindred spirits, both trying to give off badass energy even though they’re dudes who’ll turn into blubbering messes after one viewing of Paddington 2

Despite the satirical energy, Talent is mostly a silly, tongue-in-cheek experience. The filmmakers know that a Nicolas Cage movie in which Nicolas Cage plays Nicolas Cage is a long time coming. If there's a movie star who's ripe for self-parody, it’s Cage, who has spent much of the past couple decades starring in movies where he’s always on 11. (Do I need to bring up the remake of The Wicker Man?) 

Cage does play himself as a performer who wants to grow, but is constantly at odds with the wild man from his younger days. Throughout the movie, he’s butting heads with an imaginary, younger, more batshit version of himself, who constantly reminds him he’s NIC FUCKING CAGE! (This Cage is a de-aged, CGI re-creation of when the actor made an insane appearance on a British talk show back in the early ’90s. After viewing this talk-show appearance, I am convinced the younger Cage did a whole Scarface-style mountain of cocaine before stepping onstage.) 

While it’s fun seeing Cage get back into action mode in Talent, as he pitifully tries to use his acting know-how to get himself and the people he cares out of harm’s way, Talent ultimately presents the argument that Nicolas Cage is a flawed man who, like so many of us, is just trying to get by. It’s like dude is using this movie to remind everyone that, at the end of the day, he’s just a human doing what he can. Relatable. Yeah, he starred in mediocre horse shit like Bangkok Dangerous and Drive Angry. But you shouldn’t forget this is the same guy who recently gave us great work in Mandy and Pig. For every couple of clusterfucks, he gives us some golden performances that none of us saw coming.

So even when you see him in lousy movies that are so not worth his time (I should know — I spent some of the past decade reviewing that bullshit for other outlets), you should know that, at the end of the day, Nicolas Cage is trying his best. And a lot of the time it works.

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