Nicolas Cage is back (not that he went anywhere) and he’s better than ever!
It can be easy to forget that Nicolas Cage started out as Hollywood’s darling boy, nabbing an Oscar early in his career back when people still cared about Oscars, and going on to become a go-to leading man in action blockbusters.
But after a decade or two of being that guy known for bizarre performances where he screams a bunch and pulls meme-creating faces, it’s safe to say that he’s not held in the same regard these days. He’s continued to produce gems like Mandy and Pig, but you’d be forgiven for missing those given they’re buried under a mountain of rocks like Left Behind and Season of the Witch.
Nicolas Cage now more resembles a bygone legend than a real man, larger than life and seemingly all but forgotten. It’s fitting then that Cage’s most compelling character, the one who would reboot his career, would turn out to be Nicolas Cage himself.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive
Movie Titles Talent follows a fictionalised version of the actor (Cage has stated that the character doesn’t resemble him very closely) struggling with the massive debts he’s accrued in the decline of his marriage and career. He takes a job attending the birthday party of wealthy mega-fan Javi (Pedro Pascal) and the two quickly bond, but Cage becomes embroiled in a CIA plot to take down international criminal organisation.
Without a doubt, this is funniest movie of the year so far. That’s thanks in huge part to a razor-sharp script from Tom Gormican and a terrific editing job from Melissa Bretherton. Gormican seems to be inspired, and ends up satisfyingly somewhere in the middle.
But the real thing carrying the film is the chemistry between Cage and Pascal. The two play off each other beautifully, and Pascal in particular is a true delight from start to finish. His goofy, innocent sweetness falls shy of becoming stupidity, and he’s responsible for most of the biggest laughs of the movie.
Cage is surprisingly grounded in his performance here. He’s still idiosyncratic and strange, but it’s muted in a way that makes the character feel convincingly real. Don’t worry though, he still gets the opportunity to do his Cage thing, mainly through his imaginary younger self ‘Nicky’ who pops up occasionally to howl and chew the scenery.
There’s a danger in these kinds of meta stories of running out of material very quickly like a snake eating its own tail, and end up failing to say anything at all. Happily, that’s not the case here. While specific props and elements of Cage’s prior films crop up and play a part in the story and jokes, the film is trying to be its own thing and mostly succeeding. It’s riffing a lot on Birdman or The Disaster Artist, but there’s enough unique about it to justify existing.
You may be wondering how familiar you’ll need to be with Cage’s filmography for all the jokes to land. I spent about a week dragging my girlfriend through a marathon of nearly every wild Cage performance from Wicker Man to Prisoners of the Ghostland, which turned out to be wholly unnecessary. You’ll do fine with a vague memory of Face/Off and Con Air, and a quick Youtube montage of Cage’s freakouts.
My one and only criticism of the film is that it comes to an end extremely suddenly. Normally I’m complaining that most wide-release films nowadays are about 20-30 minutes too long, but it’s the opposite here. The epilogue tries to wrap everything up in the shortest time possible, whereas I would have welcomed some time to relish in the conclusion of such endearing characters.
In all, Unbearable Weight is an incredibly silly film, and yet completely sincere at the same time. There’s a real love for the work Cage has done in his career and the joy it’s brought us, but coupled with an awareness of how insane and often unworkable most of his ideas are when they’re not tempered by more straightforward minds.
Whether it will be the thing to launch Cage back into A-list Hollywood stardom remains to be seen, but I for one would welcome it with open arms. This film alone is more than enough proof that the man’s still got it.
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