I’d heard about The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent quite a while ago and had decisively steered away from teasers and trailers and, my word, I’m glad of that decision because the experience was a fantastic, off-its-head entity of awe, and there’s not enough of that these days.
Directed by Tom Gormican, and co-written with Kevin Etten, Massive Talent is one of those films that some critics, who are clearly trying to not enjoy themselves, may push away with misunderstood side sneers but this one is for the audiences and while it’d be fair to say that not everyone will get it, if you’re a fan of Nicolas Cage in any form, then he’s back (was he ever away?) and alongside a scene-stealing Pedro Pascal, you’ve got a hilariously mad lead pair.
In the film, Cage stars as Nick Cage – yes, you read that right. Setting us up in the wane of his career, with a character that’s some spirit of Cage but with the odd, slight hint of DiCaprio/Tarantino’s Rick Dalton. You see, he’s an actor who’s creatively unsatisfied but also in need of cash to pay off rising debts. As well as this, he’s also lost his way with his home life as his daughter Addy (an excellent Lily Sheen) and now ex-wife Olivia – played by the on-fire Sharon Horgan – are struggling to take him seriously as an actor and, worse still, a respectable father figure.
After another acting job falls through, our fictionalised Cage takes up an offer through his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) from superfan Javi Gutierrez (an outstanding Pedro Pascal), who’ll pay him $1 million to attend his birthday. But, you see, Javi also has ties to various crime families, and things take an awry turn when Cage is unintentionally caught up in a CIA operation led by Tiffany Haddish’s Vivan (and she’s on a great run right now) and becomes an informant, thus balancing him right in the middle of a quandary of huge proportions. There is a way to get through it all though, that’s for Nicolas to channel his iconic characters to save himself, kick off an unexpectedly affectionate relationship with his superfan, and put on his best performance as himself.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is very silly, but I mean that in a positive light. It’s packed with perfect quotable moments, and scenes fantastically made for rewatching and appreciating. While the narrative is reasonably straightforward, it’s a smart twist on the setup because of the self-referential nature of actors and the very world it’s imitating: Hollywood. Which is a reality beyond another reality, and they know it. While Cage has the time of his life, and I very much enjoyed seeing him flip through old roles at the right moments, he also creates a character arc that travels from complete loss of self, through almost every genre, right up to a genuinely touching closing moments.
But Massive Talent wouldn’t quite be the same vehicle, were it not for his relationship and chemistry with Pedro Pascal’s Javi, who is fully immersed in his fanboy fantasies for Cage, his work and status as an iconic actor. Pascal embraces all the joy and child-like fervour of anyone who loves film, and their bromance/friendship affair develops quite, quite brilliantly. This is one of those films with a classic on-screen ‘pair’ who go on a trip together and a film to dive into and lose yourself.
The wall climbing scene, the LSD moments, the misunderstanding of situations and that shoe swapping was inspired, and the line “should have trusted my shenanigans instincts of a thespian!” killed me. It’s been a long time since I sat satisfied at the end of a film with a big grin on my face, wait, maybe the last time was maybe Paddington 2, and you’ll come to realise what that means in good time. Nic Caaaaaaage forever!