Everyone has their favorite Nicolas Cage moment, right? For the record, mine is in Con Air when hitherto quiet-as-mouse convict Poe let’s rip after a righteous killer fails to put the bunny back in the box.
The actor carries a remarkable amount of goodwill among audiences even while carrying a lot of baggage in sub-B movie derivatives, which have tended to cloud his post-Leaving Las Vegas Oscar-winning career high.
The charm has seen Cage-isms go viral in numerous internet memes, such as the “Not the bees!” scene from the ill-starred remake of cult classic The Wicker Man.
This well of affection has also prompted filmmaker Tom Gormican to write an entire film based around Cage’s film history and public persona and starring the man himself.
The Lionsgate feature The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent won’t win many awards, but it will confirm in the hearts and minds of Cage fans just what a stand-up guy he is.
“I had to play with it and become self-aware about it and try to work with what had happened to me in terms of the internet,” Cage tells MovieMaker. “There are other actors who are far more famous than I am who I don’t think have had to look so closely at memefication as I have. And so, I had to do something with it. And I think this movie gave me an opportunity to play with that.”
Gormican and his writing partner, Kevin Etten, wrote the script for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent on spec, having never met Cage. They had no idea whether he would say yes to starring in the movie, or if it would ever get made.
“We decided that we’d have to complete the script, and then we’d take that and present it to him,” Gormican explains to ScreenRant. “Even that was sort of daunting, so we decided to write him a letter to basically indicate our intentions; that this was a love letter to Nicolas Cage’s career, and that it was like a celebration of all the things that he’s done. It was important to us to convey that to Nic to get him to come on board.”
READ MORE: Tom Gormican & Kevin Etten Interview: The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent (ScreenRant)
“Nick has become something that transcends being an actor,” Gormican observes in the film’s production notes. “He’s become a cultural figure. As culture gets stranger and stranger and fashion choices get more outlandish, you can trace like a direct line back to the patron saint of strangeness, Nicolas Cage. Just seeing his face makes people happy. That’s really interesting and made me want to dig in further and find out who he actually is.”
Cage picks up the story at Digital Spy, saying, “I got a very well-written letter from Tom. I could tell from his letter that he wasn’t only about sending me up, or lapsing into a mockery of an SNL sketch. He wanted to create a real character, a true person. I started to believe maybe this is worth taking the jump. There was tremendous downside, but there was also wonderful upside.
“The whole time it was a high-wire act. How do I facilitate his vision, the comedy he wanted to bring which was an anxiety-filled, neurotic interpretation of so-called Nick Cage, and still not embarrass my family?”
READ MORE: Nicolas Cage explains “high-wire act” of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Digital Spy)
Cage jumped in with both feet, coming up with the fictional version of himself that he would play on-screen. This was the one in which, while promoting David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, he appeared on BBC talk show Wogan with a performance he now finds embarrassing.
Paco Leon as Lucas Guiterrez in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” Cr: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate Paco Leon as Lucas Guiterrez and Alessandra Mastronardi as Gabriella in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” Cr: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate Nick Cage as himself and Pedro Pascal as Javi Gutierezz in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” Cr: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate Ike Barinholtz as Martin in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” Cr: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate
“After performing a handspring and several kung fu-style moves, he whipped off his T-shirt, thrust it at the startled host, and put his leather jacket back on over his naked chest before proceeding with the interview,” relates The New York Times. ‘I’m just going to have a blast!’ he declared.”
It’s the manic, borderline insane version of Cage — the one that actually many fans seem to love — that he resurrects in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
He plays “Nick Cage,” a debt-ridden, emotionally tortured version of his contemporary self, but he also plays “Nicky Cage,” an obnoxious, de-age-ified replica of his old self.
It sounds confusing on the page — but it’s a pretty simple action caper on the screen liberally peppered with some meta-comedic nods to Cage, the actor.
In the film a billionaire drug dealer, Javi (played by Pedro Pascal), offers $1 million for Cage to make a paid birthday party appearance in Mallorca.
Javi has a lavish shrine to Cage, housing an array of props, costumes — and even some life-size recreations of the actor from the action-thriller Face/Off.
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“I loved building that set,” says production designer Kevin Kavanaugh. “I had a great time picking out different elements from Nick’s films that would signify that film and his amazing career. We also recreated some props, including the burnt bunny from Con Air, the diapers from Raising Arizona, and the hand from Moonstruck.”
Additional props in Javi’s special room include screenplays (Lord of War, Leaving Las Vegas); slates (Valley Girl); and treasured props, like the golden guns from Face/Off, the lottery ticket from It Could Happen to You, and the torch from National Treasure.
In a set-up that feels close to the knuckle, Cage’s fictional alter ego is depressed, drunk, and on the verge of quitting acting, and so accepts the million-dollar offer to pay off his debts. It’s public record that Cage nearly bankrupted himself but he refuses to admit he ever accepted a paycheck for a movie just to avoid going broke.
“The one truth is, yeah, I was going through an incredible financial strain that lasted for 13 years,” he tells MovieMaker. “I made the very clear decision: I’m not going bankrupt. I’m going to work my way through this mess. And, lo and behold, I did, and I’m proud of that. But I never took a role that I didn’t think I could bring something to, and I turned down a lot of roles. That’s the story people don’t see. I was working my way out of something.”
Critics began to change their tune after Panos Cosmatos’ operatic 2018 horror film Mandy, which Cage counts among his best work.
“I’m not this guy who’s driven to be a movie star,” he says “I’m someone that actually, thankfully, has managed to stay in the independently-spirited format and do the dramas that I love so much, like [Michael Sarnoski’s] Pig. I think that’s probably my best movie I’ve ever made.”
Now, instead of looking at his body of work as a career to be measured with Oscars and coffee spoons, he views it as a series of piecemeal opportunities.
“I never really had a career. I only had work, and that’s the way I chose to look at it,” he says to MovieMaker, “It’s so hard to talk about this movie,” Cage laughs after getting jumbled up between referring to Nicolas Cage the person and Nicolas Cage the movie character. “It’s so triangular. I don’t know what to say.”
So is Unbearable Weight any good? It’s got decent if not rave reviews from the US press. Typical of them is AV Club, which concludes:
“If the movie were just meme-able moments, it might run out of steam, even with Cage delivering them practically nonstop. Thankfully, there’s an actual plot, which allows everyone else (and the film as a whole) to spoof less Cage-specific tropes. At the same time, in idolizing Cage’s nouveau-shamanic style — such as it is — the movie even makes time to poke fun at method acting, simultaneously throwing a bit of shade at actors like Jared Leto who swear by the practice.”
Jacob Scipio as Carlos in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” Cr: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate Nick Cage as himself, Lilly Sheen as Addy Cage, and Sharon Horgan as Olivia in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” Cr: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate uwmt-d43-20142-r-LR Tiffany Haddish as Vivian and Nick Cage as himself in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” Cr: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate Tiffany Haddish as Vivian in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” Cr: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate
Several point out that Cage has been in a meta-comedy featuring himself before. That was Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman, in which Cage also gave a dual performance.
In comparison, The Guardian says this feels lightweight.
“Cage simply plays Cage,” says reviewer Peter Bradshaw, “in that utterly committed, strangely uncomplicated way that has won the hearts of fans who declare themselves on the right side of the laugh-with/laugh-at dividing line.”