SXSW Film Review: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

There are stars, and then there is Nicolas Cage

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

If you ever wanted a moment that defined stardom, then Nicolas Cage walking into Austin's Paramount Theatre for the world premiere of his metacomedy, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, was it.

The star of A Score to Settle, 211, and Pay the Ghost got the kind of neck-craning awe and uncontrolled hooping, hollering, and rapturous applause that seems a thing of the past.

Why name those films, rather than bigger box office successes like The Rock or National Treasure, or critically acclaimed work like Wild at Heart, Adaptation, Leaving Las Vegas, Pig or Joe, or even intriguing oddities such as Lord of War? Because those are as important to Cage's career as those more noted movies. They're the ones that have paid the bills, and they're the ones that Nicolas Cage is belittled about by young Nicky Cage. Both parts are played by ... Nicolas Cage in a not-always-flattering self-portrait with the blazing young artist and the burned out performer, divorced, broke, and flailing between the parts that make money and the parts that will make him an actor again.

It's the financial desperation that leads to him agreeing to take $1 million to spend a weekend with the ultimate Nicolas Cage super fan, Javi Gutierrez (a suitably daffy Pedro Pascal). He's exactly the kind of Cage-oholic who would have been oohing and aahing at the Paramount, even if the source of that million bucks isn't exactly legit, as is explained to Cage by the FBI.

The script by director Tom Gormican (creator of the short-lived Adam Scott/Craig Robinson supernatural comedy Ghosted) undoubtedly shows the fingerprints of his cowriter, Kevin Etten, and his tenure on formatbusting TV shows like Scrubs and Kevin Can F**k Himself. There's a playfulness, even giddy silliness, with Nic and Javi goofing around, high as kites, like over-excited schoolboys on a shared sugar rush. Those moments are fun, but they're also part of a subtle tragedy that keys into Cage, and every decision he's made - creative, personal, professional.

Cage is far from the first actor to play himself, but there's a self-critique at play that would make for a suitable double bill with Jean Claude Van Damme's self-castigation in JCVD. Yet there's undoubtedly a major difference between the two projects. JCVD was a way for the Muscles from Brussels to show that he was more than the two-dimensional action hero. Its defining scene is a monologue in which the star literally levitates out of the story to make observations, and it's a way for him to prove that he can be more than just that guy that does the splits. We already know what Cage is capable of, all the extremities and various forms of him. Here, another monologue delivery is a vital turning point, but it's when Cage blows an impromptu audition by being too much Cage.

This is Cage trying to find himself in all those messy decisions he's made, trying to make amends while accepting and celebrating who he is. Even when the film sporadically becomes formulaic, and fits into a more singular action-comedy groove, it's its own commentary, on the divide between what Cage wants and what the audience wants, and his preparedness to give them what they want. In its final moments, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent gives Cage a glimpse of what it is he truly wants. Whether you see that as a tragedy or hopeful depends which Nic Cage you want to see.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Headliners, World Premiere

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SXSW, SXSW 2022, SXSW Film 2022, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Nicolas Cage, Tiffany Haddish, Pedro Pascal

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