Film Review: “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” – (Nicolas Cage Bares All, But Keeps Most of His Clothes On)

By Ed Symkus

Oddball and entertaining comedy-drama-thriller is a Nic Cage fanboy’s dream

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is playing at Coolidge Corner, Landmark Embassy, and Boston Common.

Nicolas Cage in a scene from The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

The best way to go about expounding on this oddity of a film is to target its intended audience. If you’re a Nicolas Cage fan (an admirer of his hangdog look, multiple hair styles, and ability to convincingly transform from tranquility to raving lunacy in seconds), Unbearable Weight is a must-see. If you’ve tried a few of his films and just don’t get him (or find his approach to thespianism annoying), you’d best stay away.

It would probably also help to properly categorize this idiosyncratic piece of genre-shifting cinema. Is it a comedy, a drama, a thriller – and if it’s a thriller, does it fall under the sub-genre of spy thriller or crime family thriller or action thriller? Or is it a buddy movie, or maybe a study of a dysfunctional family or something about a bemused man going through a midlife existential crisis?

Damn! That’s a tough one. It’s actually all of the above.

After a brief prelude of an Italian couple (watching a Nic Cage movie on TV) becoming victims of a home break-in, the setting moves to Los Angeles, where Nicolas Cage, playing a slightly modified version of himself (in the film, he’s divorced and has a daughter; in real life, he’s gone through four divorces, is married, and has two sons) is trying to put his life in order. He’s between film projects, owes a boatload of money, and can’t find the right words to connect with his teen daughter.

After yet another unproductive meeting with a director (David Gordon Green, who, a decade ago, directed Cage in Joe), desperation sets in, resulting in the manifestation of a volatile, long-haired, leather-clad, advice-spouting Cage doppelganger, sitting right next to him in his car, also played by Cage. Note: Referred to as Nicky, the character is based on Cage’s eccentric 1990 appearance on the British talk show Wogan. Yes, it’s on YouTube.

They talk. Well, OK, they argue. But there are plenty of other folks for Cage to converse with: His ex-wife (Sharon Horgan), his therapist (Joanna Bobin), his incompetent agent (Neil Patrick Harris).

This looks to be a portrayal of a man at the end of his rope, wanting to be happy, but not knowing how; needing to make a living, yet unable to land that next part. But a decision to retire from acting and “live the life of a housecat” evaporates when he’s offered and takes a lucrative one-off gig: to be a guest at the birthday party of wealthy fanboy Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) in Majorca.

It’s right then that The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent begins to play out similarly to the way so many Nic Cage films have played out before it. His character gets into a situation that goes out of control, forcing him to deal with it in improbable ways (sometimes resorting to raving lunacy), and eventually beating the odds stacked unduly against him.

It’s time to bring in a couple of inept CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz), cast doubt on the integrity of the wealthy fanboy, bring back the unpredictable Nicky, toss in a motorcycle-car chase and a couple of pretty cool shootouts.

Writer-director Tom Gormican (whose only previous credit is 2014’s That Awkward Moment) finds ample opportunity to namedrop (and sometimes show clips from) manifold Cage films, among them The Rock, Gone in 60 Seconds, Guarding Tess, National Treasure, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and Face/Off. At one point, Javi gushes to Nic that “Mandy is a masterpiece.”

The film is both ridiculous and extremely entertaining, and Cage is wonderful in it, proving that he’s skilled at his craft (yeah, he may be a seven-time Razzie nominee, but he also has two Oscar nominations and one gold statuette), and he’s a fan of and willing participant in self-deprecation.

Ed Symkus is a Boston native and Emerson College graduate. He went to Woodstock, is a fan of Harry Crews, Sax Rohmer, and John Wyndham, and has visited the Outer Hebrides, the Lofoten Islands, Anglesey, Mykonos, the Azores, Catalina, Kangaroo Island, and the Isle of Capri with his wife Lisa.

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