You might not immediately think a movie that features Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal cliff-diving in Majorca, Spain, and driving through the streets on hallucinogens would be Father’s Day fare. But hear us out.
In The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Cage plays himself, or at least a fictionalized version of the actor who’s fallen upon, well, not exactly hard times, but an existential crisis: he doesn’t know which direction to go with his career, since lucrative offers have begun to dry up. Should he do arthouse films (like last year’s remarkable Pig) instead of stuff like The Croods? He’s haunted, too, by his public image: that of a crazy guy who spends way too much money and is “out of control.”
But the Nic we’re first shown appears on a television screen: we see him sheepishly offering a stuffed bunny toy to his daughter, circa 1997, and we’d know that mullet — and that movie, Con Air — anywhere.
Images and references from Nic Cage movies keep exploding, everywhere, all the time, in this comedy by Tom Gormican. It’s like Cage is trapped in a funhouse full of mirrors reflecting his impact on popular culture. There he is hoisting double gold guns in Face/Off! There he is in National Treasure! Even Captain Corelli’s Mandolin gets a shout-out!
It’s a meta move that reminds us of Being John Malkovich, focusing on a fictional version of a real-life actor, though lacking the truly surreal levels of Charlie Kaufman’s comedy.
Instead, it swiftly reveals itself to be a buddy comedy in which Cage, steered by his agent (played by Neil “Doogie Howser” Patrick Harris), accepts a weekend gig that pays $1 million. The assignment? Cage must hang out with a huge fan and billionaire playboy Javi Gutierrez (Pascal) in his Majorca mansion built from olive oil profits.
But before that happens, we see how Cage has messed up his personal life. He can’t unplug the cellphone from his ear, and keeps bugging his agent about a big role, even as his daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) is about to blow out the candles on her 16th birthday. Even worse, he keeps slurping bourbon and decides to sit down at the piano and drunkenly “improvise” a song for his daughter about their trip to Joshua Tree when she was nine. Awkward.
This is the part that ties into Father’s Day, and being a dad. The character Cage, like many of the characters he plays, has a difficult relationship with his kid, and perhaps with parenthood. Nic’s idea of a “fun movie night” is forcing Addy to watch the German Expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with him. Both Addy and Nic’s ex-wife, played by Sharon Hogan, have had enough.
The problem with Nic Cage is that he’s blinded by the actuality of being himself. (And yes, you’d have to say that a guy who won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, then made movies like Ghost Rider and National Treasure, along the way marrying Elvis Presley’s daughter and picking out his future pyramid-shaped tomb in New Orleans’ oldest cemetery, all in the same lifetime, has had an interesting life.)
So what’s left?
For Cage, in existential crisis mode, it’s reluctantly hanging with Javi at his palatial mansion. Pascal is great as an extremely nice fellow who’s truly gobsmacked by Cage’s life and oeuvre.
For Cage, in existential crisis mode, it’s reluctantly hanging with Javi at his palatial mansion. Pascal is great as an extremely nice fellow who’s truly gobsmacked by Cage’s life and oeuvre. Yes, he’s the type who has a secret room devoted to the actor’s movie memorabilia. And through pure positivity, he convinces Cage to let his guard down and enjoy himself — even if he is doing it for a contracted fee of $1 million.
The fun of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is not only how it plays with the conventions of Nic Cage movies from the past, but in the actual camaraderie that develops between Pascal (easygoing) and Cage (wound up tighter than a panther’s hamstrings). We see Cage is a little on edge because he keeps getting visitations from a younger, CGI version of himself. (This is a little uncanny valley, but just go with it.) The younger “Nickie,” from around the Vampire’s Kiss/Moonstruck era, goads Cage into going with his inner crazy, instead of taking on “artier” roles and trying to regain critical cred. “Addy doesn’t need a struggling artist for a father,” Nickie says, after slapping his older version in the face. “You’re Nick Effiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing Cage!!!”
It’s this weird imbalance between being a responsible adult dad and going with the beckoning wolf’s call of serving your own uniqueness that says something, not only about Nic Cage, not only about the Hollywood industry, but possibly about all males and all fathers everywhere.
In reality, we dads like to believe we’re role models, offering some kind of useful information to our kids; but often, what they need more is for someone to just listen and be there as a sounding board. They’re smarter and more capable than we think.
“Everything always has to be about you,” Addy complains to her dad. “What you like, what books you’ve read, what movies you love. I’m your daughter and I get this debilitating anxiety that, if I don’t like what you like, you won’t like me.”
Cage is taken aback: “Addy… I was sharing these things that were meaningful, because they’re important to me…”
“No, you weren’t. You were trying to mold me into this little version of you.”
A little bit of emotional insight, somehow smuggled into a schizo meta comedy with dueling Nic Cages. Nice.
Along the way, Pascal and Cage’s dialogues help deepen the buddy relationship. Cage decides to help Javi write a killer script, something he can help produce. They drive around recklessly in Majorca, ponder their life journeys, and the movie makes conscious nods to another Charlie Kaufman movie in which Cage plays opposite himself (Adaptation) as it veers off in yet another cinematic direction.
By the end, the road leads to family reconciliation, which (believe it or not) is another trope in Cage movies, from The Family Man and Matchstick Men to Kick-Ass and Raising Arizona. Bonding with his ex-wife and daughter over popcorn on movie night, Cage learns not only to accept that Paddington 2 is one of the best films ever made (you can check it out on Rotten Tomatoes, if you’re skeptical), but that he still has it deep within himself to believe that he’s… Nick… Effiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing… Cage!!!