The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a high-wire act few films could pull off. Directed by Tom Gormican and written by Gormican and Kevin Etten, the film is a buddy comedy built on rom-com lines, a meta comedy about the current state of the film industry, and a dramedy about a man searching for meaning when the thing he loves most doesn’t love him back. Nicolas Cage stars as a down-on-his-luck version of himself, “Nic Cage”, an actor struggling with a fading career, a family man estranged from his family, an artist tortured by his worst self, a lonely man who finds an unexpected friend. Pedro Pascal stars as Javi, that unexpected friend, a wealthy man and Nic Cage superfan who pays Nic one million dollars to attend his birthday party in Spain. Broke and in need of cash, and with no acting offers on the table, Nic accepts the offer and goes to Javi’s party.
The strange balance of Massive Talent is it’s half farcical, half dramatical set up. Nic has real problems—his sixteen-year-old daughter, Addy (Lily Sheen), is embarrassed by him; his ex-wife, Olivia (Sharon Horgan), is disappointed in him; and he’s haunted by “Nicky”, a younger, Movie Star version of himself who misses the celebrity high life and berates Nic for perceived failures in reclaiming that status. But while all this is going on, Nic is also roped into an undercover sting by a CIA agent, Vivian (Tiffany Haddish), and her cynical partner, Martin (Ike Barinholtz). He is asked to spy on Javi, an arms dealer, and as Nic deals with his more grounded family issues, he is also doing spy bits like accidentally dosing himself with a sleeping agent, and dropping acid with Javi as they seek inspiration for a script they’re going to write together. Massive Talent is equal parts absurd, so cringe it’s physically painful, and heartfelt. It’s a mix that should not work and yet does.
It's largely down to Cage’s complete commitment to the bit. For playing himself—two versions of himself—in a movie loaded with references to his real-life A-list career, including characters frequently naming their favorite Nic Cage movies, or talking about the relevance of acting in the current, sh-tty world, Cage’s performance is amazingly egoless. He takes comments about his less than celebrated VOD movies and references to his real financial troubles on the chin, he lampoons his own reputation for being an over-the-top performer, he embraces the notion of the comeback (even though he “never went anywhere”). He plays Nic as a combination of parody of a Movie Star and a personal avatar of the “Nicolas Cage” that occupies a large space in pop culture. He is in on the joke, but he does not use that self-awareness as an ironical shield, instead, he uses it to make Nic more emotionally vulnerable. It’s what makes parts of the film so cringe it’s hard to look at, the second-hand embarrassment ripe as Cage debases himself in an effort to secure a plum film role.
And he’s so funny! Cage and Pascal both understand that the key to good comedy, especially coming from non-comedians, is not to play the joke, but to play the character. Cage certainly does that, and though his role is more traditional and straight forward, Pascal is equally committed to Javi, playing him as an awkward fan using his status to make a connection most fans could only dream of. Javi is not the cruel arms dealer the CIA agents describe, he is an enthusiastic cinephile with dreams of writing his own movie, and through a love of certain films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Paddington 2, Javi and Nic end up bonding, despite Nic’s secret agent routine. Nic, needing a reason to stick around Javi’s compound, agrees to work on Javi’s script with him, and the two men have a rom-com style bonding adventure in act two that seals their friendship.
It's the script device that opens up the meta layer of Massive Talent, as Javi and Nic discuss what a film needs to get audiences into theaters. Here is perhaps the trickiest element director Gormican sets up for himself, as he has to not only set up the third act action as “script development”, but then pay it off in a way that is organic and thrilling despite outright stating what the action will be. And it works! Again, largely because Cage and Pascal establish a real rapport and the audience roots for Nic and Javi to triumph, but also because Gormican manages the delicate balance between the grounded action and the absurd comedy. The tone is consistent regardless of which mode the film is in, and Cage and Pascal never stumble in their total commitment to what they’re doing in the moment, which only heightens the comedy. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent should not work, but like Nicolas Cage’s career, it succeeds because of its eccentricities, not in spite of them.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is exclusively in theaters from April 22, 2022.