What is the “role of a lifetime”? It’s something Cage talks a lot about at the start of the movie (in reference to your generic, grizzled action hero), but in my opinion, after watching The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, the role of a lifetime is clearly Nicolas Cage. As every fan of Cage knows, the only thing more entertaining than his iconic roles in films like Face/Off, The Wickerman, and Wild at Heart is his own eccentricity.
The sheer meme-ability of Cage — from his “nouveau shamanic,” wide-eyed acting style to his tendency to impersonate airline pilots and take magic mushrooms with his cat — makes him the perfect candidate for a wacky meta-narrative like this. He’s all too willing to immerse entirely into his ego, and the semi-ironic cult of personality surrounding him to make a surprisingly hilarious and heartfelt movie.
In a lot of ways, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent shouldn’t have worked. It’s hinged on a meta-narrative riddled with fan service, niche inside jokes, and the somewhat overplayed archetype of a washed-up has-been looking for a comeback. But the film turns this recipe for disaster into a luxury feast by not just relentlessly taking the piss out of the ingredients, but ensuring that they’re all blended in such a way that the end product is better than anyone could have ever anticipated.
At the heart of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a love story, not between “Nick Cage” and his ex-wife (played brilliantly by Sharon Horgan), but between him and Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), the wealthy superfan with a screenplay, a reversible sequin pillow of Cage’s face, and a possible hostage being held as part of an underground cartel operation.
Although Cage obviously relishes playing an exaggerated version of himself, some of his best scenes are opposite Pascal, from their heartbreaking separation to their compliment shoe swap. Their impeccable on-screen chemistry makes for countless belly laughs and genuine heartfelt moments, all the while being able to parody the buddy cop and comedy movie genres.
We see Pascal as the grizzled tough guy so often, his softboi take on the impassioned Cage fan is both refreshing, and all the more hilarious given that we’re told he is the head of a ruthless, violent crime family.
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Despite Nick being tasked with spying on Javi in cahoots with the CIA, the reason the two characters work so well together isn’t because one is a foil to the other — it’s because they both equally enable each other’s delusions of grandeur, which allows them permission to lean even further into absurdity with laugh-out-loud results.
Because the movie is a meta-narrative that is making fun of itself and its own pretentiousness (come on, even the title is tongue-in-cheek), nothing really is off-limits in terms of how far these characters can go and get away with.
At one point, Cage even makes out with a version of himself from his Wild At Heart era, and if there’s a moment that sums up the movie, it’s probably a tie between that, and the unveiling of a $2,000 waxwork of Cage in Javi’s shrine (yes, he has a shrine of Cage) that by the actor’s own admission is “disturbing.”
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The supporting cast of this movie alongside Pascal certainly elevates it to another level as well, from Cage’s on-screen daughter Addy (played, ironically, by the daughter of Charlie Sheen), to Javi’s ruthless cousin Lucas (Paco León) who manages to make eating a bowl of Fruit Loops look menacing.
Neil Patrick Harris is entertaining too in his handful of scenes as devoted (ish) agent Richard Fink, but two people I desperately wanted to see more of were Tiffany Haddish as Vivian and Ike Barinholtz as Martin. The pair not only bounced off one another well, but were the perfectly hilarious and exasperated voices of reason in a movie where literally nothing is taken seriously.
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Even though you’re meant to take the movie with a bucket of salt, the razor-sharp and consistently strong writing elicits enough belly laughs,and fuzzy feelings to make The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent a fantastic film in its own right as opposed to being limited to a mere means of making fun of other films.
As unbearable as Hollywood might be, Nicolas Cage, the rest of the cast, and their massive talent manage to carry it with ease — and take it down a peg or two while doing so.
Delivering his best role in years, Nicolas Cage is definitely back. Not that he went anywhere.