The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent: Family/Man, by David Bax
My parents were pretty strict when it came to R-rated movies so fourteen year old me didn’t get to see Con Air in a theater. I felt the pangs of that great disappointment in my life again when Tom Gormican’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent opens with a scene from that film, with Nicolas Cage’s long hair blowing in the wind on the giant screen and his overcooked Southern accent rumbling in the speakers the way I never got to experience back in 1997. It turns out we’ve dropped in on two characters who have nothing to do with Cage; they’re just watching one of his seminal performances. Soon enough, though, Cage will show up as himself in the lead role of this mostly fun, occasionally too self-satisfied ode to the actor’s indelible power and high voltage appeal.
Con Air is just the first of many, many Cage vehicles namechecked in Massive Talent, most of them by Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), a mega-wealthy Cage superfan who’s paid a lot of money to get the man himself to spend a birthday weekend with him at his seaside Mallorca estate. Some of these references are direct (“Mandy is a masterpiece”), some of them are oblique (The Wicker Man is never explicitly mentioned but bees are) and some of them are actually plot- and character-pertinent (Guarding Tess plays a surprisingly important role in both Javi and Nic’s emotional arcs).
But the Cage film that’s most germane to Massive Talent, despite never being referenced in any specific way that I caught, is Brett Ratner’s The Family Man. Both movies use their high-concept premises as a way to teach the protagonist that being a husband and father is more important than chasing career achievements. The unspoken joke buried at the center of Massive Talent is that this version of Cage must have failed to learn that lesson when starring in The Family Man.
As a tribute to Cage’s, you know, talent, Gormican’s film (co-written with Kevin Etten) is most valuable as a reminder that the man, increasingly known for gonzo genre movie freak-outs, is also capable of being quite funny. From Valley Girl to Peggy Sue Got Married to Raising Arizona to Moonstruck, Cage spent much of the early part of his career making people laugh. Massive Talent proves that those muscles still work. A long section of the film that essentially plays as a buddy/drug comedy is the most purely hilarious thing he’s done in years, with Pascal matching him beat for beat.
Eventually, Massive Talent transforms into a pure action movie the likes of which Cage made in the 1990s. One could interpret this change in direction in the same way as Larry Beinhart’s novel American Hero (the very loose basis for Wag the Dog), an increasingly outlandish tale suggesting that we have become more accustomed to processing reality through the lens of visual spectacle than through thoughts and words. Or the car chases and explosions might be just as much wish fulfillment for Gormican as they are for Javi (to say nothing of the film’s likely audience).
The final act is irresistible in its exuberance but your overall enjoyment of Massive Talent might depend on your tolerance for self-referential storytelling. On the one hand, it’s intriguing that this isn’t an example of a celebrity playing a bizarro, distancing version of himself like on an episode of Extras. No, Cage is playing Cage as a real person whose divorce(s) and relationships with his kids are ongoing concerns. On the other hand, Gormican often seems to be far more pleased with himself than his level of cleverness warrants, foreshadowing future developments because he thinks the wink itself is funny. As with Cage’s career, there’s meat on the bones provided you know where to look and where not to.