The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent is a wonderfully funny, lighthearted homage to film – and not just the ones starring Nicolas Cage.
It took a letter to convince Nicolas Cage to star in The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent – a film in which the actor plays himself. After rejecting the role several times, co-writer and director Tom Gormican sent the letter to explain his intentions and his vision for what the film would be. Cage has said that he was finally convinced by Gormican’s clear affection for his early filmography, which continues to this day to be somewhat divisive. But Cage was absolutely right. The comedy isn’t a parody of the actor’s work, it’s a cleverly written homage to all of his roles, and to cinema in general. It’s also extremely, extremely funny.
When his debts rack up, the jobs dry up, and his relationship with his daughter reaches breaking point, Cage accepts an unconventional job offer from his agent (Neil Patrick Harris). He’ll be paid one million dollars to attend the birthday party of wealthy mega-fan Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal, who matches and sometimes even exceeds the performance of Cage). Things take an unexpected turn when a couple of CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) inform him that Javi is really a dangerous crime lord holding a president’s daughter hostage, and recruit him as a spy.
The Nick Cage we’re presented with at the start of the film is a down and out actor who’s desperate for work, drinks too much, and hallucinates a younger, zany version of himself that pops up to give unsolicited life advice. It’s a smartly-written depiction of the actor. It’s a fictionalised version of Nicolas Cage based upon the real-life public perception of him as a star – including the eccentricities, the debt, the fact that he’s always working, and references to his ‘shamanic ability as a thespian’. But it’s always clearly separated from the real Cage, not least through his fictional family – estranged wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and daughter Addy (Lily Mo Sheen).
From the very opening moments, Massive Talent is packed full of references to Cage’s filmography. It starts, rather spectacularly, with the closing scene of Con Air, as a woman watches, transfixed. That’s the first in a long line of callbacks to various films. A less intelligently written movie would use this as an excuse to parody the Nicolas Cage works that are often considered “lesser”. But this doesn’t do that. It treats all films, regardless of genre or perceived quality, as equal. It’s a work in which Face/Off and The Rock are treated the same, and referenced as much, as Leaving Las Vegas or Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
There’s an interest here in all of Cage’s filmography, be it the silly or the serious. It also makes reference to and shows a love of wider cinema. I don’t think anyone has expressed their affection for both The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari and Paddington 2 in the same film before, but it’s something movie fans will find really endearing.
But Massive Talent isn’t an exercise in pointing at the screen in recognition, Leonardo Di Caprio style. It’s an incredibly fun buddy comedy fuelled by the awesome rapport between Cage and Pascal. Pascal is especially good, giving possibly his best performance. As a Nick Cage super fan, his portrayal of Javi is just a ray of light in an already joyful film. He’s essentially playing the biggest Nicolas Cage fanboy, and he’s so earnest and believable I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a real-life fan.
As two huge film nerds, the antics they get up to together invariably end up involving recreating classic and clichéd set pieces. Their hilarious recreations of scenes from the paranoid thriller or action movie may come across as parody, but it’s clearly being done with the utmost love and respect for the genres they’re playing on. The same goes for Nick’s sudden introduction to the role of super-spy. It plays flawlessly on the conventions, even though the character doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.
Cage is truly at the top of his game at the moment, and the range needed to play this version of himself in Massive Talent proves it. He’s got the chops for comedy, action, pretty much any genre you throw at him. He gives an incredibly outlandish performance as the younger Nicky, going all out to evoke the super-dramatic performances he gave in his early career. Nicky could easily become an overplayed and tiresome character, but he shows up only when really necessary. Gormican shows some good restraint in knowing when those moments are needed.
That’s one of the most refreshing and wonderful things about this film. In the wrong hands, it could have become the Scary Movie of Nicolas Cage films. But instead of mocking his early filmography and the conventions of the action-comedy, it’s instead a lighthearted homage to all things cinema. Massive Talent is a film made by, about, and for people who just love films – ones starring Nick Cage or otherwise (though loving Nick Cage certainly helps). I haven’t laughed so much at such a fun, uplifting film in a long, long time.
The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent in in UK cinemas from 22nd April.
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