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The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent Review: Age Of Cage

Nicolas Cage is at least somewhat aware, as recent interviews prove, that he is the internet's favorite actor. He's heard about the memes, encountered the superfans, and even leaned into the strangeness surrounding his reputation to have a little fun at his own expense. But Cage is also smart enough, and devoted enough to his own personal worldview, to exist outside of the meme sphere that has so defined public perception of his life and work over the last 15 or so years. It's not that he's unaware that he's viewed as a little bizarre, or even that he is a little bizarre. It's that, at the end of the day, he's a guy who'd rather just focus on the work.

It's that focus, that devotion to the craft of acting, that makes "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" such a fascinating creative endeavor for Cage in the first place. In the context of his career right now, fresh off bold and compelling successes like "Mandy," "Pig," and "Prisoners of the Ghostland," what does a meta-comedy in which Cage plays himself and leans heavily into the internet's oddball reverence for him have to offer the actor? The answer, as is so often the case with Cage, is more complicated than you might think, and Cage's ability to wrestle with that, coupled with a wonderful supporting cast and a script with a surprising amount of heart, makes "Massive Talent" a must-see for Cage devotees and casual fans alike.

One last job

The Cage we meet at the beginning of "Massive Talent" is, like his real-life counterpart, driven by his desire to work. The Nick Cage of the film is on the verge of a new professional breakthrough, talking to a director about a film and a role that could put him back on the map (not that he ever went anywhere) and eager to prove to his disinterested daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) and ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Hargon) that all his distance from them will have been worth it.

Then it all falls apart, and Cage is forced to go with his backup plan: A $1 million offer to attend the birthday party of uber-wealthy superfan Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) at Javi's mansion in Mallorca. Committed to the idea that he'll take the money and run away from acting to focus on his family, Cage hops on a plan, only to find when he arrives that he's suddenly swept into a plot by a couple of CIA agents (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz) to reveal Javi as a secret crime lord and solve the kidnapping of a European politician's daughter. Is it a risk that's not worth taking, or is it actually the role of a lifetime?

There is, you may have noticed, a lot going on with that premise, and that's only the stuff that the trailers are willing to tell you about. The script by Kevin Etten and Tom Gormican (who also directed) is packed with both meta-textual moments reflecting on Cage's career and cultural impact and action-comedy twists and turns that only heighten as Cage becomes entangled in Javi's life in ways he didn't expect. Throw in musings and interruptions by Cage's imaginary version of himself, Nicky, and you've got a film that starts at 11 and just never lets up. And yet, Gormican and Etten never let it feel like it's slipping through their fingers. There's a lean quality to "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent," despite its bloated title and hook-laden premise, and that comes in no small part from the film's ability to focus on the unlikely bromance at its core.

Nick and Javi

Cage, as you might expect, gives "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" everything he's got, but despite the film's premise, the emotional core of the movie isn't just about him. Pascal has almost as much as to do, and carries the film's premise and arc with equal fervor and charm. Together, they make an unlikely bromance work within several key tonal shifts, moving from pure comedy to action-comedy to moments of real drama, both 100% committed to giving each other the space they need to make their performances work in tandem. The film will certainly go down as an essential Cage performance, but thanks to his sensitivity, charm, and remarkable game-ness, it's going to go down as an essential Pascal performance as well.

What's most fascinating about the film in the end, though, is of course Cage's commitment to play himself, and to say something about his place in pop culture as a performer and persona while also doing something that's clearly exaggerated for metatextual, meme-ified effect. "Massive Talent" casts him as a guy who's so committed to his work, and to the idea of his own stardom, that it costs him closeness with his family, creating a kind of shorthand for the symbiotic relationship Cage the Man has with Cage the Performer, and how disorienting it is for him to have those two elements in flux within his life. When the action-spy-comedy of it all kicks in, he sees a change to somehow merge those elements, to make both of them right, creating a fascinating third character in the process. It's a remarkable performance even by Cage standards, and a remarkable narrative dance the film pulls off, especially when you consider the extended drug sequences and a third act that plays more like something from Cage's '90s action heyday than a meta-comedy made for internet fandom.

"The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" may feel, from the outside looking in, like a straightforward comedic look at Cage's public image. It is that, but along the way it becomes something much more, an exploration of a man's effort to fully realize himself by learning that art and life are not separate entities. That makes it a comedy of surprising depth and even more surprising heart, and one of Cage's best films ever.

"The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" is in theaters April 22.