While Tom Gormican’s highly amusing comedy riff on the legend of Nic Cage was a sizable hit earlier this year, it hit cinemas just before the core audience returned, meaning that this is one of these films that’s likely to be a home entertainment sleeper. Out now, on digital and disc, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is one of the year’s most intriguing and entertaining films, a comedy that starts off like a Spike Jonze deconstruction, then segues into a Pineapple Express-type action comedy.
There’s something emerging in today’s zeitgeist about sending yourself up; When Paul Anderson went to Jon Peters to suggest how Bradley Cooper’s character might be based on him for Licorice Pizza, the two men decided to create a cinematic iteration of the legendary agent that was far more extreme that the real one. Similarly, Tom Gormican’s self-reflexive project for Nicolas Cage, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, aims to create a broad cartoon of the famous actor and movie star; initially hesitant, Cage eventually warmed to the idea, and the result tinkers with the actor’s own public image to constantly amusing effect.
Nicolas Cage (Nic Cage) is introduced as a man in conflict with himself; as he shuffles from meeting to meeting in LA to sell his ‘nouveau shamanic’ acting style, he’s constantly bickering with a digitally de-aged version of himself, complete with Wild at Heart promotional T-shirt. Is Cage an actor, or is he a movie star? We seem him forcibly audition for director David Gordon Green (who previously directed Cage in Joe), but a follow-up call reveals the words no actor wants to hear, that the studio ‘went in a different direction’. Distraught, and planning to retire from the industry in a childish sulk, Cage accepts a lucrative offer to travel to Spain to attend the birthday party of super-fan Javi (Pedro Pascal), only to find himself pressed into service as an agent for the CIA. The government operatives are investigating the kidnapping of the daughter of a presidential candidate, giving Nic Cage the performer the chance to ‘Nic Cage’ his way to real-life heroism.
This mid-film shift from comic self-analysis to wild action comedy is very much in the style of Green’s Pineapple Express, and may annoy those who were quite happy with the on-going media satire. But Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten pull off the switch, which tonally harks back to the ‘cowardly vaudevillian mistaken for gunfighter’ tropes of Three Amigos, Bob Hope or Danny Kaye. And Cage seems game for sending himself up, with everything from Face Off to The Wicker Man to Moonstruck to Guarding Tess revisited, the latter evoked through a tearful, emotional speech by the mysterious Javi. As an artist, Cage is portrayed as wanting to make ‘a beautiful character-driven adult drama’ but audience expectations and sentiment seem to work against his creative instincts.
‘Everything has to be about you,’ aptly notes Cage’s fictional daughter here; there’s an inspired running gag in which Cage is regularly brought back from the edge of pretention by his worldly family, his no-nonsense Irish wife is played by Sharon Horgan (amusingly upgraded to Demi Moore in the final ‘movie’ scenes). This fictional Cage is portrayed as a father who struggles to connect with his daughter, who doesn’t share his interest in cinema and has never even heard of Cage’s proposed recommendation, which she calls ‘The Island of Dr Calamari’. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari turns out to be one of Javi’s favourite three films alongside Face Off and yes, our old nemesis Paddington 2; Cage is shown having a transformative moment (twice) watching that film. The point is that we may well disappear into ourselves searching for what might connect with others, but sometimes we just have to relax and be ourselves. The result is a smart, wonderfully silly comedy with Cage matched by an on-form Pascal in sending up our celebrity-obsessed culture to wicked effect.
Amongst copious extras on the disc package, there’s a cut scene with really shouldn’t have been cut from this movie; as Cage prepares to rescue his daughter, he’s assailed by the younger version of himself, a conflict that’s been ongoing throughout the film, but doesn’t get overtly resolved. If included, it’s a genuine highpoint; Cage falls into a metaverse in which his films are staged in the German Expressionist style of FW Murnau, a sequence every bit as lively as the chase through John Malkovich’s subconscious in Being John Malkovich. It’s something of a post modernist wheeze to see films like Face Off and Gone in 60 Seconds in the silent style, but it also forms a perfect metaphor of the weight of past performances we see acting on Cage the character. With this scene added, I’m upping the rating from a four to a five star review; it’s no less than Cage and his ‘nouveau shamanisc’ stylings deserve.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is on digital 8 July in the UK & Steelbook, 4K UHD, Blu-ray & DVD from 11 July