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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent: Review

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent celebrates Nicolas Cage’s legacy with a funny, clever romp that both leans into and toys around with his sensibilities.

What can you say about Nicolas Cage that hasn’t already been said? He’s one of the most iconic, beloved actors possibly ever, he has an insanely dense and varied filmography, and he’s turned in some wonderful performances ranging from subdued and poignant like Pig and Adaptation to over-the-top insane like Face/Off and Kickass. Few actors’ reputations have run such a wide gamut from genuinely revered talent to meme-worthy ridiculousness. So, naturally, when a film like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent comes along to show an interpretation of Nicolas Cage as Nicolas Cage, it’s going to turn some heads. As for me, this meta comedy delivered pretty much all that I was hoping for: a fun, goofy, endearing Nic Cage romp. Not much more, but certainly nothing less.

Directed by Tom Gormican, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent sees actor Nicolas Cage as a divorced father who’s grappling with the fading of his glory days, trying to juggle his creative unfulfillment with his connection with his daughter Addy (Lily Sheen). He accepts an offer to attend the birthday of billionaire and Nic Cage fan Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), and the two bond and even decide to write a new screenplay together. But when a CIA operative (Tiffany Haddish) contacts Cage informing him that Javi may be connected to a kidnapping, he’s thrust into a world of crime and espionage, unsure of how much to trust Javi and facing even greater responsibilities when Addy and his ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) eventually get roped in.

Diehard Cage fans (of which there were clearly many at my screening) will no doubt walk out of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent very happy with how Cage himself is portrayed, because even though this is an actor playing himself, it’s clearly not meant to be a “realistic” depiction of said actor. Instead, this is what a lot of people may have jokingly speculated the real Nicolas Cage to be like: not quite as eccentric as some of his craziest roles, but still a big, strange personality that can have freakout moments that resemble those of certain characters he’s played.

But Cage still manages to make this fictionalized version of himself feel like a real enough version of himself and not just another one of those zanier characters. With rare exceptions (that are warranted), he walks what Gormican described as a tightrope walk by pulling himself back from going over-the-top just enough to make the character feel believable … that is, unless he’s playing a hallucination of himself that represents the true insanity within him spawned from the “glory days” of his career. This is where you see Cage completely unhinged, and it’s a joy to behold.

loud and clear reviews The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent nicolas cage sxsw 2022 film nic cage
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Lionsgate | Courtesy of SXSW 2022)

But this wackier portrayal isn’t just a cheap source of fanservice. The Nic Cage of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent has defined characteristics that stem from his passions as a performer and lover of art, and he struggles with not letting that side of him completely overpower how he interacts with people. For example, he constantly tries to get his daughter to love the same things he loves, to a point of overwhelming her and distancing her even more. I feel like we’ve all either seen someone like this or maybe inadvertently became someone like this, someone who lets their own points of view overshadow and alienate others’.

On top of that, there are implications that this version of Cage has grown a bit nuttier because of all the crazy roles he’s played, like he’s taken his mind to so many different places for so many different movies that they’ve all merged into one hot mess. Especially since it’s become a running joke in real life that Cage stars in a ton of films and is seemingly not very picky about them, something that’s cleverly worked into the story. The egotistical, self-congratulatory nature of this film’s very premise and title is wholly intentional and utilized to deepen the central character.

This even complicates the mission assigned to Cage by Haddish’s character. She wants him to try and write a kidnapping into his and Javi’s script to get information on where the real kidnapping victim is, but Cage is getting so legitimately into the story he’s writing that he doesn’t feel right compromising its artistic vision. That’s both really funny and says something about how the line between art and reality is getting fuzzier for him, and there are several more scenes with him that touch upon that. The bond between Cage and Javi is nothing short of a nutty bromance, and it feels so genuine that you want to believe that Javi isn’t the terrible person he’s suspected of being, and that this friendship can somehow be preserved. Pascal does so well in keeping you guessing as to whether this guy is a harmless eccentric, a delusional psycho, or something in between. Any possibility is believable for a good while.

Make no mistake, though: everything about The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is entirely rooted in lighthearted comedy. There are dramatic moments here and there, and they serve their purpose well, but at almost no point was I ever on the edge of my seat in suspense of what would happen next, nor was I ever so deeply invested in any character or any relationship. Even when the film does get more emotional, it often feels like it’s just going through the motions. But I don’t think the film ever had such a goal to begin with. If anything, this feels like a throwback to a lot of Cage’s most prolific fun movies. The Face/Offs, the Con Airs, the National Treasures, the movies that few would declare high art, but countless people are entertained by. As successful as he’s been with smaller, more serious roles, Cage himself even said after the screening that he wanted to revisit these roots of his.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent lets that happen, but it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to artificially recreate those old days. The plot is standard, but there’s enough substance with the two major characters to take it just a notch above the loveable schlock of the past. Even a few characters that aren’t written that deeply are made so fun to watch just through the performances. Granted, Cage’s family and the main villain are on the blander side despite being acted well, but Haddish shines as the straight but still expressive CIA operative sympathetically trying to manage Cage’s shenanigans, and Ike Barinholtz is another standout as her partner who hilariously sees this entire endeavor as a fool’s errand from the very start.

I wasn’t expecting The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent to be some transcendent, mind-blowing work of genius, and I really don’t need it to be. It’s a celebration of Nicolas Cage and his career, and an all-around laugh-out-loud comedy that simply wants you to have fun without being mindless. And the reactions from start to finish from my audience made it abundantly clear that the film more than met those goals. Cage fans are of course going to love this, but even those who don’t know or care much about him will probably still have a great time. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent has great jokes, great lead characters, fun action (including a few really impressive car stunts), and a lot of solid writing that ties many different threads together nicely. For what I was hoping for, that’s certainly enough for me.

And Paddington 2 fans will be quite pleased as well … you’ll understand when you see the film.

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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent premiered at SXSW 2022 on March 12, 2022, and was released in theaters everywhere on April 22, 2022.

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