Nicolas Cage is in on the joke
Last night I watched the film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent as blindly as possible. The previous film I saw at the cinema was A24’s latest film X, and after leaving the theatre, I just so happened to walk past a poster which caught my eye because it had Nicolas Cage on it. Along with the film’s title, that was all I knew about it and was enough to have me sold.
It seemed like an exciting yet risky choice for Cage to do a comedy in general, considering how unkind the internet and journalism have been to his career. And only in the last couple of years he has been able to climb back up to being taken seriously again.
Before I continue, I want to say that since I reviewed Pig, I regret saying that that film was probably going to go down as my favourite Nic Cage film. In retrospect, I feel like that pigeonholed him, and at the time, I hadn’t seen Color Out of Space and Mandy yet. Now that I have caught up to those and rewatched my first favourite Cage film, Next, I’ve come to the daunting realisation that I can’t exactly pinpoint what my favourite Cage film could be. I still have a lot of older films of his from the 80's and 90's I should catch up on still before making such claims.
Another thing I regret not realising until I saw In Praise of Shadow’s video “In Defence of Nicolas Cage” was how much Pig seems to be about his career and ethos. In comparison, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent could be the spoonfeeding version of Pig in that regard. Over the past decade, the public has Tommy-Wiseaued the Oscar winner. So if you watch this film that spells out that Nicolaaaaaaas FUCKIN’ CAGE is in on the joke, and you still don’t get that, then that would be telling.
This film is about a fictionalised version of Nic Cage. It sticks to keeping his real-life career accurate, but his in-movie private life is entirely different from what it is in our reality. For example, he has a wife and daughter in the film, whereas Cage has two sons in real life.
Considering Cage is a private man who describes himself as “quite boring”, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is what made him feel more comfortable taking on this film in the end. And the writer and director Tom Gormican did have to ask four times before Cage finally said yes after writing a personal letter. I can understand why he had to persist because, of course, if your film is about Nicolas Cage, you have to get Nicolas Cage. So I’m thrilled he agreed. This film would never have worked otherwise.
The film comes across as fan fiction of Gormican making a film with Nicolas Cage, and I love it. It’s the most fun I have had with meta in years!
Theoretically, one could watch this film and find it hilarious without being familiar with Cage’s career. It uses comedy that doesn’t rely on that. But I think that one would get more out of the humour if they’ve seen their fair share of his work and know a bit of trivia. And I don’t just mean those “Rage-Cage” freakout compilations on YouTube. True Cage fans will get a lot of catharsis out of this film.
And I get the impression that Gormican is possibly the ultimate Nic Cage fan who went out to achieve that very catharsis. The character Jave who wants to make a film with in-movie Cage is possibly an insert character. There’s also a scene where Jave shows Cage his room of paraphernalia he’s collected across the actor’s career. I wouldn’t put it past the director if he owned at least some of the items featured. I would love to own the Mandy chainsaw and gold guns from Face/Off myself.
The film is also a character study. Cage has said that playing a fictional version of himself was possibly the most challenging role he has had to do and has said that the way he played himself is not what he is like in real life. For Cage, acting is a craft and something that he treats with spirituality; he is not a naturalistic actor, which has become frustratingly the norm for live-action performances. Hence, many of my favourite performances are from animations these days. Cage prefers to lose himself in characters, so to lose himself as himself did require exaggerating the truth to make this role work.
Something I know is that Cage is passionate about cinema and watches his movies to improve his acting and film-making appreciation. That’s there in the film but tinged with stereotypical celebrity ego. But not too much that it makes him unlikable. Even then, it’s more so coming from a place of desperation as the actor is treated with condescension and as being washed up. And this is what manifests another character Cage plays called “Nicky”.
“Nicky” is a figment of Cage’s imagination. In appearance, he is his younger self, probably around the time, he won his Oscar, at the height of his career and pre-internet impact. I want to congratulate the makeup and visual effects artists for excelling at recreating how Cage used to look. As a character, he is narcissistic and haunts Cage telling him he’s a star and not to take on the minor roles. In performance, this ghost of his past is ridiculous, and that’s the point. According to Cage, “Nicky” is based on his appearance on the Wogan show while he was promoting Wild at Heart which, in his own words, he described as “awful, just awful”. But I also think this character has to be the personification of his own meme culture and how people view him, which has gotten in the way of his career that he must overcome. Like he’s in a toxic relationship with his own brilliance.
My favourite scene involves “Nicky” and wasn’t part of the script either but was added in by Cage. Cage makes out with Nicky, after which his old self proclaims, “Nic Cage smooch is good!” It works on many levels, and is a perfect example of comedy meets character. I respect Cage for going all-in on this role despite his previous reservations.
Lastly, I liked Pedro Pascal as Jave. He was a cuddle bear, a fanboy, and I was on board with his creative motivations. He and Cage had excellent chemistry together, and it was because of their bond that brought out guys being sensitive and tender with each other over films and performances, that somewhat filled the void I had after watching Our Flag Means Death.
So if you haven’t yet, please watch this film in your own time for a unique comedy. Watch it as a celebration of his career and just think of what we would have missed out on if Nicolas Cage became a secret agent instead. And for an alternate recommendation check out the HBO series Barry.