24 April 2022

First Impressions: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

There's not too many actors that are singularly unique in the vein of Nic Cage. There's not too many who have earned both an Academy Award and made their mark on Direct-to-DVD sales. Or who have starred in as many major action blockbusters and introspective and experimental indie films. The Cage just does it all and it's about time we had a film that synthesized this into a meta-commentary on his career, Hollywood, and the fact that all of Cage's insanity has become iconic. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the SPOILER-filled impression of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022).

This film stars Cage as Nic Cage, an actor past his prime, but who is very much an in-demand A-Lister. Sort of. He blows his shot with David Gordon Green, gets drunk at his daughter's birthday party, decides to quit acting, then accepts a gig to appear at a Spanish millionaire's birthday party. But Pedro Pascal is maybe a drug lord who kidnapped the President of Catalonia's daughter. Hilarity ensues!

Watching this film is a trip. It's chock full of Cage references, and everyone seems to have their own favourites. No one seems to mention The Trust (2016) though. The heavy hitters are here, Con Air (1997), Face / Off (1997) and The Rock (1996) get their due. But also a ton of more niche films, most of which are caught here and here, from Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) to Mandy (2018). This is a celebration of all things Cage, and it finds ways to honor his gonzo acting without ever looking down on it.

I have long been a Cage admirer, and I think all cinephiles are to some extent. There's just so much interesting acting going on there. And so many questions. Is he self-aware? Is this on purpose? Is he doing this for insane spending habits on dinosaur eggs? Or does he, like he remarks in the movie, just like working and doesn't think about his public persona or reputation, and moreso just sees it as a job to show up to every day. This film wisely leaves all that stuff pretty ambiguous, but the Cage as Cage we get here feels pretty real and authentic.

Of course, Cage himself has said it's not, which is even more bewildering. Like, in the first twenty minutes you can just picture that this is what Cage must be like. Apparently he's someone else, maybe that's an entirely different movie. Not since This is the End (2013) have I seen a film so joyfully toy with an actor's commonly excepted public persona, and purport to give us an inside look at the madness. And to make it more unbelievable, this really was just a film written by two random dudes that someone were able to actually talk to Nic Cage and then get this made. I suppose if this wasn't ever made, it'd just be sitting around somewhere as a fun lark. But to answer the question of "Did Nic Cage have any involvement, or really told the story he wanted to tell about himself?!" The answer is...no.

I generally did like this, but I thought it got a little off track when it departs from being a winking Cage-focused Hollywood satire and instead becomes...a Nic Cage movie. It's actually the exact plot of the movie Adaptation. (2002) starring...Nic Cage as two different Nic Cages, who end up writing themselves into the movie they are writing, as an action film to get more easy viewers. To add to the matter that that was Charlie Kaufman's way of breaking through the writer's block he had adapting the book The Orchid Thief is just even better.

The film devolves into an action shoot 'em up, which still has plenty of surprises in store. There is a lot of intertextuality here, though. The ending is basically Tropic Thunder (2008) or Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) where the events of the film lead to an actual movie with big name actors, but I actually did like how instantly Hollywood-ified the scene became, with expansive sweeping shots, classically beautiful actresses, and the American flag proudly and prominently waving in the background.

So most of this movie is just a movie, which I guess I'm okay with, but I always want something a bit weirder. We do get some nice hallucinations, or maybe they're just Cage's way of talking to himself, in the form of a de-aged Cage from the late 80s / early 90s. The technology for that is getting scary good, although it's still just uncanny because you know it's not possibly him. We also get a Cage on Cage make-out scene, apparently his own suggestion, which is perfect in every way. But other than that we don't quite get into the loudness, the mania, what it's like to truly experience the mind of the Cage. I shouldn't say all that, we get some nice loud FUUUUCKS and all the ticks and mannerisms we've come to love. I don't know what caused my insanity-meter to go so high, but this film just didn't get weird enough for me.

That's all to say what we get is pretty good. Pedro Pascal easily goes toe to toe with the Cage and Paco Leon, who I just saw when I accidentally watched You Keep the Kids (Mama o Papa) (2001) because I didn't know it was in Spanish plays a great menacing, but still ultimately stock drug kingpin villain, mostly on the periphery before clanging down on everyone in the third act. Tiffany Haddish is here looking like she's getting ready for GI Jane 2 but does a spectacular job. Although does she live at the end? Shit. Did we ever see her get up?! No one else is super notable, but this is and is always supposed to the Cage show.

And he shows his impressive range, which we all know. This might be his most human performance ever, and that's surely in no small part because he's playing himself and not some insane businessman who thinks he's a vampire or a stunt-biker whose skull is on fire. There's this running gag that Cage is back, but also maybe he never left. That's definitely true. Cage seemed to go down that Liam Neeson / Bruce Willis / John Cusack geezer teaser route, but then pulled back and dropped stuff like Color out of Space (2020) and PIG (2021). He's not really in that mainstream blockbuster mode anymore, which probably peaked with National Treasure (2004), but he's far from someone who's been off the map.

Still, the goodwill from this and PIG certainly feels like we're on the edge of a Cage-assaince. I'd love to see him more in at least films like this instead of those random hackey movies designed for old angry white men. I did note, and I'm not sure if this is on purpose, but the plot did hinge on a daughter kidnapping, then a double daughterknapping! If old white men can't get their daughters back, what is even the point of being alive? This was too sly, I'm not sure if it was supposed to be meta or genuine, but hey, that's the age we live in now.

I thought it was interesting that Cage has a beard in this, as he's not really known for beards. Some famous moustaches in Kick-Ass (2010), The Trust, and Raising Arizona (1987), but not too many beards. Definitely a lot of recent films, though. Maybe he just wants to grow one and doesn't shave anymore? Since you asked for it, he sports a full beard in, Seeking Justice (2011), Army of One (2016), Mandy (2018), Primal (2019), Kill Chain (2019), Willy's Wonderland (2021), and Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021). And PIG, of course.

These recent Cage flicks are crazy. Is he the only one to come back from the geezer teaser bin? It just seems like his movie choices are so close to the edge. What makes one film a PIG and another a Willy's Wonderland? Cage does just seem to say yes to a lot. Him saying yes both elevates the material, like he's still a star that can get stuff made, but sometimes that high premise turns out to be Mandy and sometimes Prisoners of the Ghostland. I don't know. It's just truly one of life's bigger mysteries.

I also dug how this movie had such a free discourse on good movies like Paddington 2. I did jump on the hype train for that film and I actually disagree that it's the greatest thing ever - I didn't think it was all that special. But so many people do, and it's nice to acknowledge the many forms a great movie can take. Like Face / Off. Which obvi is the #1 movie of all time and probably the greatest Cage performance. I'll say it again, he has an Academy Award. It wasn't even one given to someone in a career honorary sense, it was in 1995, man. Like, he used to make the jump to action films. It's totally wild.

This is a great celebration of Cage and all he's done for our lives. It hits the highs and lows and is really an amazing film to see. I think it could have pushed a bit more, but that's always me. Go see it and ensure that more of these kinds of movies get made!

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