Tom Gormican’s weird and delightful comedy leans into tragedy more than you’d think and it’s all the better for it.
From its first minutes, you know exactly the kind of film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is. You might not have a clue what category or genre it sits in, but you do know it’s weird, wonderful, laugh-out-loud funny and most importantly, a loving tribute to Nicolas Cage and the magic of the silver screen.
Nicolas Cage plays Nicolas Cage, a kind-of-fictional-but-not-really version of himself who’s running low on cash and his family affairs are a mess; his wife (played by Sharon Horgan) is divorcing him and his teenage daughter Addy (Lily Mo Sheen) isn’t too impressed with her movie star dad.
At the brink of retiring from acting, Cage takes a job in Mallorca for a birthday party appearance but is quickly embroiled in a CIA operation to capture local crime lord and potential kidnapper Javi (Pedro Pascal).
Cage the actor is equally deranged and brilliant playing a version of himself. He’s fully committed and willing to laugh at himself; it’s difficult to tell where the real Cage ends and the fictitious one begins. It makes for an engaging, if at times uncomfortable, watch.
There is second-hand embarrassment aplenty and at times, Massive Talent brings to mind the underrated You Cannot Kill David Arquette documentary which far too few people saw. While Massive Talent isn’t a documentary, both films gently, and with great empathy, tackle failure, success and passion as well as the weariness of the profession and the toll it can take on a man.
Above all, Massive Talent is a love letter to not just Nicolas Cage, but movies in general. Gormican, who also co-wrote the script with Kevin Etten, loves to show off his knowledge of movies and Cage’s filmography. It’s all a bit too on the nose, especially at the beginning of the film when everything becomes a little gimmicky and smug.
Massive Talent is considerably better later when Gormican masterfully tip toes the line between tragedy and comedy and often infuses the two together. This is a funny film and there is plenty of slapstick for those who love it, but when the film finds its true heart, it soars to new heights.
It’s not easy making a film this empathetic, but somehow Gormican has mastered it. There is a slight sense that we might sometimes be laughing at Cage rather than with him, but the film is still so good-natured, it doesn’t become too distracting.
Playing against Nic Cage is Pedro Pascal who is allowed to flex his comedic muscles with delightful and admirable results. The pair have great chemistry together, even if the humour is a tad hit and miss and the jokes aren’t particularly clever. Less well served are Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz as the clueless CIA agents who are more an afterthought than an essential part of the plot.
While Massive Talent is cringe-y in all the best ways, it also becomes a little too cartoon-ish and ends up taking the piss rather than lovingly teasing. Strangely, the dreadful and uncanny CGI used to let Cage talk to his younger self works precisely because it’s almost nightmare-inducing.
At times, it seems that Massive Talent runs purely on good will and the sheer love towards Cage as a movie star. It’s all fine and dandy, but Gormican takes too long to get into the film’s themes. Massive Talent works as a fascinating study of a man obsessed with his disappearing, or maybe a rediscovered sense of, success and would make a rather enticing double-bill with Birdman if you’re in the market for stories about men grappling with their identity and success.