The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent! Starring Nicolas Cage as Nick Cage!
I went into this movie knowing nothing more about it than that. And I was vindicated in my presumption that pretty much everything you need to know about it is encapsulated in that summation. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Much of your own personal assessment of that will depend upon what you think of Nicolas Cage as an actor and entertainer. And what you think of the rather sorry current state of American movies.
Our reactions to movies, of course, are never not about all the baggage we bring with us into the cinema, but that is amplified here. I am a big fan of Cage's work when he's allowed to be honest and sincere; his performance in last year's anti-revenge drama Pig may be his finest, most delicate, most considered yet. But much of his work has been in hyperbolic genre films and of a heightened sort, so much so that the phrase "Cage rage" has come to describe it. This over-the-top onscreen persona is celebrated in many cineaste circles... and if that amuses you, I'm happy for you. But it annoys the shit out of me, and I don't find it fun.
So here's the best thing about Massive Talent, and the thing that made it palatable to me: It finds a balance between acknowledging Cage's recent onscreen persona — the wild, stylized intensity he has become so lionized for — and recognizing the limitations that come with the more plausible neuroses and insecurities of an actual Hollywood movie star. Cage may be portraying a fictionalized version of himself here, but it's a believable one, one that is not ruled by knee-jerk violence and unthinking anger, one that is sweetly vulnerable and endearingly flawed. He has an ongoing imaginary conversation with his younger, more arrogant self (that is now the only use of de-aging technology that I will accept). The sole appearance "Cage rage" makes here is in an impromptu audition for a film role that the actor "Nick Cage" is desperate to get. It's a funny scene because it is aware of how absurd, if also how iconic, "Cage rage" is.
No, what The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent — the title is definitely ironic — is about is the contrast between movies and real life. Because when "Nick" fails to get that much-needed role, he is forced to take the only other job seemingly on offer: attending the birthday party of a billionaire superfan for a cool $1 million. Except the billionaire is shady, of course, and Nick gets sucked into being a CIA informant to help bring the billionaire down. So what we end up with is a clash between the badassery we expect characters played by a "Nick Cage" to be able to pull off, and the "reality" of what a pampered, coddled, privileged movie star is capable of.
This is where nothing about Massive Talent is the least bit unexpected. Toss a movie star into a life-or-death situation involving guns, kidnapping and other high crimes, and, well, you'll find anything that happens surprising only if you don't already realize that actors are most definitely not the characters they play, and that movies are most definitely not real life.
This is an amusing movie, but it's also an instantly forgettable one, fueled by a self-congratulatory smugness that sees self-reference as the highest form of humor. And yet the best bits of this movie are the more sincere stuff: Pedro Pascal as the billionaire, who loves movies and adores "Nick Cage"; Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz as the CIA agents who recruit "Nick." There's an unbearable weight to their tasks as straight men to Cage's "Nick Cage." They stoically endure the chore of winking at a thing without ever really challenging it. ♦THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT