The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)
Written by Tom Gormican & Kevin Etten
Directed by Tom Gormican
At this point, we must acknowledge that Nicolas Cage is a movie institution. He makes movies he is passionate about or jobs that help pay for something new in his life. His motivations are the same as any working person; he just sometimes gets paid an obscenely large amount for what he does. For example, Pig (2021) was made on a budget of around $3 million and earned back just a little more than that at the box office. This tells us that Cage didn’t agree to star in that film for the payday but because he genuinely believed in the project. As much as a cartoon as he’s become in the zeitgeist, I still see him as a genuine artist who doesn’t care what you or I think at the end of the day. He’s in the movies that he wants to be in. With this picture, he allows the filmmakers to deconstruct his film persona for some laughs and genuine human insight.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent opens with Nicolas Cage (Nicolas Cage) having been passed over for some desired film roles and feeling that he’s washed up. He’s bothered by Nicky (Nicolas Cage), the manifestation of his younger rebel film persona who tries to rile the old actor up. His intense focus on his film career has led to Cage being emotionally distant from his daughter Addy (Lily Mo Sheen) and ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan). He decides it’s time to retire to spend more time with Addy but not before accepting one last $1 million job. To earn the money, he must fly to Majorca and be the guest of honor at billionaire playboy Javi Gutierrez’s (Pedro Pascal) birthday party.
Cage is immediately annoyed with the neediness & insecurity of Javi when they meet but tells himself to power through the weekend. Soon after, Cage is contacted by undercover FBI agents Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz). They suspect Javi’s fortune comes from arms dealing and that his cartel is behind the kidnapping of a local politician’s daughter. Cage reluctantly agrees to gather intel for the agents, which leads to a wild adventure, and Cage eventually discovers what is essential in life.
There is no shortage of movies attempting to be cleverly meta-fictional, and so many of them aren’t as smart as they think they are. For The Unbearable Weight, the filmmakers find a pleasant balance between clever meta-commentary and dumb fun comedy. Cage is arguably one of the best vessels for this sort of humor because his career is quite silly, yet with bursts of brilliance. Teaming the actor with Pedro Pascal is also a genius touch, and the two play off of each other so well. Pascal has plenty of comedic chops I don’t think have been explored well in a more prominent movie, so it’s nice to see him given that chance here. Pascal can make a character as potentially unsympathetic as Javi, despite his gross insecurities, into someone the audience will root for in the final act. He’s not a bad guy, that, of course, is another figure in the family, so at worst, he’s been a rube for other people’s nasty machinations.
I wish there had been some more editing to make this a pure buddy picture between Cage and Pascal because the film as a whole isn’t that great. There’s a celebration of Cage’s work happening in a way that comes off in some moments as ironic and others as genuine. I think, for the most part, that worked, and I found it endearing, but it can pull you out of the story when an FBI agent suddenly wants to expound on how much they loved Face/Off. There are funny ways it gets used in the story; the agents play into Cage’s ego to convince him to place surveillance devices in Javi’s mansion. The best use of this motif is when Javi tearfully talks about how watching Guarding Tess helped him bond with his dying father, which is both humorous and endearing.
The Nicky concept never worked for me; it was a painfully obvious computer-generated de-aged Cage and never really went anywhere I thought was interesting or added substance to the overall film. I understand what the filmmakers were going for by including it, but Nicky was just a deadweight that could have been cut, and the movie would not suffer. The family drama also plays out extremely predictably, and I think the script could have taken us in a super sincere route so that the emotional weight hits a little more complex than the audience anticipates. This isn’t a bad movie and one I recommend you check out if you love Cage’s work, either genuinely or ironically. He’s an actor I think I’ve come to understand and enjoy in the right pictures. Something like Willy’s Wonderland is a piece of garbage waste of Cage’s talents, and here we can actually understand why he’s become such a beloved figure.