THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT is a wonderfully warm, funny, and touching comedy that is also very meta about the craft of acting, the life of an actor, and filmmaking. It has a lot to say about creativity versus commerce. It’s a buddy comedy crossed with a spy thriller that is also about the relationship of a man with his daughter that has gone wrong. It’s really a send-up of many different films but at the same time, it’s also telling the same kind of story that is considered a cliche but in a way that avoids the cliches. By taking it in the meta direction and putting so much genuine human feeling into it, it manages to transcend the cliches.
There are many actors that are accused by critics and audiences of ‘playing themselves” in every film. This is something that drives actors nuts. Yes, they are supposed to be playing a character but, and I am going to lapse into actor-speak here, their instrument is their own body. How are they supposed to transform into someone else? There’s a belief among film fans that actors must physically transform themselves “to become a character” which is taken as an extreme form of method acting. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is not The Method and that is not the craft of acting. You cannot transform yourself into another person, no matter how much you physically punish your body or how many rats you send to your co-stars. It is a physical impossibility. The best that an actor can do is show, through emotional work and truthfulness, what a character is thinking and feeling.
YOU CAN NOT BECOME ANOTHER PERSON.
The film makes the point that emotional truth as communication through the art of cinema is really the only thing that matters. It is the only thing that will move and involve an audience in your film, which is what makes a film great.
In the film, Nicolas Cage plays himself. From the start, it is hilarious to watch him send up his image but his performance also shows you the vulnerabilities and hurts of an artist who lives for their art. That is the titular unbearable weight. It’s not the responsibility of having such a massive talent. It is the essential loneliness and isolation from the rest of the world and all the people who don’t understand how much it means to you. It is the regret and estrangement from those who you love that your creative drive and need to excel can cause in your life. This performance isn’t overtly as tragic as his role in the superlative Pig, but it is similar and related. It shows the other side of the coin that people don’t see when they mock actors for taking “paycheck roles”.
There’s a moment in the film where Nick Cage, the actor, cannot help but humble himself in his pursuit of a role and it’s a heartbreaking moment for anyone who is a passionate actor who also is misunderstood by the people who have the power to give them the roles that they crave. It’s a moment when you give your all and the gatekeeper seems wowed. You think, “I did it,” and then you hear from your agent those dreaded words, “They went in another direction”. It’s the worst kind of disappointment for an actor because you spilled your guts and they didn’t get it, or there was some other consideration that was more important than talent. Yes, that happens, even to Nicolas Cage.
But, don’t let all this talk fool you. THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT is a delight. The director and co-writer is Tom Gormican, who only has one other feature to his name. The co-writer is Kevin Etten, who also worked with Gormican on a series called “Ghosted”. It seems like Cage is continuing his path of working with newer directors and giving their different ideas a shot which is part of the reason for the current Cage-issance. The script works very well. The light touch of both script and direction and the courage of the concept and subject matter is a big reason why THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT is so successful.
The cast is wonderful. Nicolas Cage as Nick Cage, Pedro Pascal as Javi Guiterrez, Tiffany Haddish as Vivian, Sharon Horgan as Olivia, Lily Sheen as Addy Cage, Paco León as Lucas Guiterrez, Neil Patrick Harris as the hilariously named agent Richard Fink, Alessandra Mastronardi as Gabriela, and Ike Barinholtz as Martin. Every one of these performances is filled with such warmth and gentleness, particularly Pedro Pascal. There’s a moment that is played as a joke, regarding the film Paddington 2, but still makes the point about the value of vulnerability, which is an endearing quality that Pedro Pascal has huge amounts of.
It is so rare to see such beautiful vulnerability and hopefulness in a mainstream film, especially a comedy. Pascal brings out the natural warmth of Cage and vice versa. I think the actors are cast for this quality, except for the few who are the antagonists, and the antagonists do their jobs very well. Comedies these days tend towards being mean-spirited and are frequently based on watching characters be embarrassed socially and tormented in other ways. THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT is not that kind of comedy. It’s a comedy that you can watch with your kids and still find nourishment and excitement for yourself as an adult. It’s not cynical but it’s also not faux nice either. It’s genuine and earns its humor honestly.
Kind of like Paddington 2.
I wish I could say more to praise the craftspeople in the film, but I would have to watch it a second time, and I definitely will, so maybe I can update this later with a more detailed description of the below-the-line work. But what I can say is that everything else in the film was just as good as the work of the others that I have already praised, so the craftspeople did a wonderful job as well.
THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT is so much fun. It is charming and thoughtful and filled with light. It’s got everything you could want in an action-comedy and it is PURE NICOLAS CAGE, which frankly should be enough to convince everyone to immediately head towards the theaters. A film that dares to be vulnerable, still brings the laughs, and has so much heart.
THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT will be in theaters everywhere on April 22, 2022.