The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent — Good Enough, But Could Be Better

Image retrieved from TMDb

Nicolas Cage hasn’t had a prominent role in a blockbuster where audiences can see his face in over 10 years (he’s done voice work in a few successful animated films), so it’s perfect timing for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent to release. It’s a movie in which Cage plays himself — he (the character) hasn’t been in a big movie in years, can’t secure the roles he’s excited about, and he’s more of a burden than a blessing on everyone in his life. He shows his uninterested daughter movies that he loves, and follows that up with lecturing her about why they’re great, instead of listening to her about why she doesn’t like them. Ultimately, when he realizes he’s a has-been who’s been putting himself before his family, Nick decides it’s time to retire from acting.

Nick, who’s beginning to amass considerable debt and is living in a hotel, is eventually offered a job, though… unfortunately, that job isn’t an acting role; it’s being invited to a Spanish millionaire’s birthday party. Once he meets this millionaire, Javi (Pedro Pascal), Nick is reminded of why he was an actor in the first place. Javi loves him and his work, and there’s a real connection between the two of them, as they’re both lovers of cinema new and old. And it’s pretty clear right off the bat that the relationship between these two characters is going to be the best part of the film. There’s a mutual, genuine respect for each other, and it’s just a delight to witness. Cage is of course great as the fictionalized version of himself, and Pascal, who’s been the cocky playboy in Game of Thrones and the stoic antihero in The Mandalorian, brings his own unique energy that vibes well with what Cage is doing.

Unfortunately, the movie goes more mainstream than a simple character piece about two people bonding over life, purpose, and meaning. It turns out Javi is part of a notorious Spanish arms dealing family, and the CIA wants Nick to help them take him down while he’s in Javi’s good graces as a guest. So to get Javi to let him stay at his home longer, Nick convinces Javi that they should write the screenplay of the next great Nicolas Cage movie together. Once this reveal happens, the whole feel of the movie shifts. It’s no longer a fun, character-driven dramatic comedy; it becomes a quasi-action thriller, and it just doesn’t work as well. Too much time is spent with the CIA agents and bad guys, and not enough time is spent with the interpersonal relationships that were driving the movie up to the shift in tone.

It’s a shame this is the case, because you get the sense the movie itself knows it’s not as interesting or compelling once it brings in the action. Nick and Javi emphasize that they want their movie to be character-focused, and only begrudgingly add kidnapping, action, and explosions when they realize that’s what will help a movie’s marketing. Hearing about a movie that would likely be much better from the characters in the not-as-engaging movie that you are watching can be a bit of a letdown, especially when you know the filmmakers themselves know what it takes to make a movie engaging. This type of meta awareness can feel truthful at times, but here, it just feels manipulative (especially when they bring the love of Paddington 2 into the fray).

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent isn’t what’s going to kick of the Nicolas Cage renaissance, especially when getting out of debt and making movies like Mandy and Pig have helped to do that. But it’s not a total dumpster fire either. There are enough fun moments, enough lines and actions that will make you chuckle, and enough references to Cage’s previous work to keep you entertained. It’s just not a particularly special or emotionally moving film in its own right.

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