The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent stars Nicolas Cage playing a version of Nicolas Cage, in a parody of Nicolas Cage and the many, many films of Nicolas Cage. This couldn’t, you will have already surmised, be more Nicolas Cage, and if you are wondering how much Nicolas Cage is too much Nicolas Cage you could say any amount of Nicolas Cage is always too much Nicolas Cage. But that’s exactly what this film is playing with and it’s a hoot.
It is directed by Tom Gormican, who co-wrote the film with Kevin Etten, and Nicolas Cage plays ‘Nick Cage’, a Hollywood movie star famed for his unique, unhinged intensity – why does that sound familiar? – who has an ex-wife (a wry Sharon Horgan), a teenage daughter with whom he struggles to connect and a career that’s currently in the doldrums. Once a box-office king, he’s now known less for the quality of his films and more for their sheer volume. (The Nicolas Cage that is actually Nicolas Cage has made around 122, it is estimated.) It infuriates him always being asked: why so many? Is a plumber ever asked why he’s installed so many bathrooms? But he’s been fast and loose with money, can’t pay his hotel bill, and while he is desperate for a comeback – ‘not that I’ve been anywhere’ – there aren’t any offers on the table. Apart from one: a million dollars to attend the birthday party of a billionaire superfan on a Spanish island. What am I, he asks, ‘a trained seal?’ It’s depressing. It’s degrading. When do I go?
So it’s off to a sun-drenched private villa in Mallorca where his host, Javi (Pedro Pascal), takes fanship to the highest level, which is awkward enough, but, wouldn’t you know it, he has also written a screenplay he’d love Nick to read. Is this that film? Is this a meta movie about the making of a meta movie? I will only say that what follows is a surreal spoof involving the mafia, the CIA, an LSD trip and the abduction of a young girl. It’s part comedy caper, part action thriller – with a plot as wildly ludicrous as Con Air – but it is also a sweetly touching bromance and romance. And it’s peppered with references to the real Cage’s substantial oeuvre. The Wicker Man is here, and Face/Off and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Mandy and Gone in 60 Seconds and The Rock. He’s made so many mad choices down the years you’d think only a fool would trot them out. But what this tells us most crucially is: he’s in on the joke. We’re not laughing at him, but with him.
Cage playing this version of himself is wholly over the top, of course, but for once it’s absolutely in keeping with the spirit of the film. Usually, he’s so singular that I’ve always imagined he arrives on set, registers what tone the other cast members are aiming for, and opts for the direct opposite. Here, everyone must keep up with him. And while it is a send-up of his ego, it’s affectionately done, and there are moments of real vulnerability. It has some terrifically funny moments too, and it takes some terrific swipes at Hollywood itself. For example, Javi’s screenplay mutates from ‘a beautiful, character-driven adult movie’ to one that includes a kidnapping (‘for the trailer, and to make it more thrilling’) until it’s finally a blockbuster (‘then there is something for everyone.’) At one point Cage moots retirement or, if not that, only taking small roles in films by respected directors. But he’s soon talked out of that: ‘You want to be the gay uncle in the Duplass brothers’ next movie?’
Cage fans will want to fill their boots. My own face hurt by the end. It took me a while to work out why and then I realised: I’d had a smile throughout.