One of the best things about The French Dispatch, the latest quirky drama from filmmaker Wes Anderson, was the fact that Anderson decided to go, well, Full Anderson. The filmmaker leaned in hard to everything about his signature aesthetic we know and love, and it made The French Dispatch the most Wes Anderson of all Wes Anderson films. There’s something uniquely satisfying about an artist not only being in on the joke but embracing it, choosing to joyfully laugh with their audience rather than push back against it.
Such is the charm of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a silly but endlessly entertaining romp with none other than the wild and wonderful Nicolas Cage doing what he does best: being Nicolas Cage. Co-written by Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten (the former is also the film’s director), the film worships at the altar of Cage and the actor himself is at the front of the crowd. In the film, Cage plays “Nick Cage,” a small but smart distinction (the actor styles his name as Nic Cage, no K), one that gives the actor just enough space to play with his own reputation and filmography, and when we meet him, he’s a one-time star with the best of his career behind him and nothing but debt and disappointment ahead. His wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) has divorced him, his teenage daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) wants nothing to do with him and the best offer his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) can get him is an invitation to attend a wealthy businessman’s birthday party in the lush Spanish countryside. At first, Nick is reluctant; has he really fallen so far? But without any better options and getting dangerously close to rock bottom, he agrees for the sake of a paycheck.
The businessman who’s paying him to attend the party is Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal, who more than holds his own alongside Cage’s overwhelming screen presence), who the feds suspect is the kingpin of a major drug smuggling cartel and also the brain behind the recent kidnapping of the daughter of a politician. If all of this sounds a bit heavy for a Nic Cage comedy, never fear: there’s enough gags, easter eggs and sheer self-awareness to keep the proceedings from ever feeling too serious; the cartel and kidnapping plot lines are there to give us a chance to see Cage as the action star he is through chase scenes and shoot-outs. Cage himself is keenly aware here of his reputation as a larger-than-life performer; there’s even a young “Nicky” who shows up as a sort of id to Nick, a CGI de-aged Cage who’s amped up to an 11, embodying the actor at his most intense and impulsive.
As Nick gets to know his host better, he’s also approached by the feds (Tiffany Hadish and Ike Barinholtz) and recruited as an operative to gain intel and hopefully find the kidnapped girl. Javi is a Nick Cage super fan, eager to get Nick to star in the script he’s written just for the actor; in an effort to stay in Javi’s circle a bit longer after his birthday party has come and gone, Nick agrees to write a new script with Javi, one that’s a true collaboration between these goofballs. The meta layers here are many, but Etten and Gormican keep good track of all of the threads they weave together so that we can, too. In the midst of the fast-moving plot are more than a few beats where even casual Cage fans can catch the nods to his storied career and bad-boy persona.
Does the plot always make sense? Is it always explained how we get from point A to point B in this multi-layered homage-slash-action pic? No, of course not. But if you’re paying attention to that sort of detail, you’re looking in entirely the wrong direction. This is not a film with an Ocean’s 11-style note-for-note narrative where the steps of the mission are the plot of the movie. No, this one puts plot—fun and well-thought-out as it is—squarely in the backseat for the sake of a wild ride with a singular, endlessly entertaining leading man who more than deserves his moment in a movie that adores him as much as Unbearable Weight does. From a spot-on running joke about the endearing Paddington 2 to a third act cameo that I implore you not to spoil by looking at the film’s IMDb cast list, there’s a lot to love here. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent will probably not be remembered as a masterpiece of filmmaking or become the latest entry in award-winning prestige cinema, but that’s OK. It’s a gift nonetheless, and one that reminds us what fun it can be not only to fan out on our favorites but let them in on the worship, too.
The film is now playing in theaters.
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