This wonderfully deranged action-comedy in which Nicolas Cage plays someone called Nick Cage, who seems an awful lot like Nic Cage is super-duper meta and tons of fun.
With his off-the-charts intensity, Cage has sometimes been accused of self-parody. Over a 40-year career, hes become known as a shouty, bug-eating freakout king, which is why YouTube is packed with five-minute supercuts of Nic Cage just losing it.
In Unbearable Weight, Cage is tasked with approaching self-parody head-on, but with a sweetly silly, unexpectedly warm vibe from director Tom Gormican and co-scripter Kevin Etten (whove both worked on Ghosted), it becomes self-parody of an exploratory, off-kilter kind. Unbearable Weight is sharply hilarious but genuinely poignant, self-aware but not smug, mocking but never mean.
Cage is absolutely in on the joke as when he refers to the gosh-awful Captain Corellis Mandolin as underrated, for sure but hes also completely committed, in a very serious sense, to exploring issues of aging and ego and celebrity and the porous borders between art and life.
The result is maybe the Cagiest Cage youll ever meet, but also a way of seeing the 58-year-old performer fresh.
At the start of Unbearable Weight, Nick is dealing with broken marriages hes trying to make it right with former wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and teenage daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) and with money made and then blown; hes somehow acquired a $600,000 hotel bill without realizing it. Hes also desperate for a big comeback role. (Not that I went away.)
And hes feuding with a Nicky Cage, a digitally smoothed, slightly creepy version of his much younger self. Nick just wants to be a working actor, while Nicky is jonesing to be a movie star. Nicky screams, smacks Nick across the face and in one particularly wacko scene French-kisses him.
Nicks agent Richard Fink (Neil Patrick Harris) mentions a new project. Whats it about? Nick asks. Its about a million dollars, Fink replies. The payout is for attending the Mallorca birthday party of eccentric Spanish billionaire and Nic Cage superfan Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal, just being a complete delight for 90 minutes).
Javi seems like a star-struck dork, but the CIA, repped here by Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz), believe hes the ruthless head of an international arms cartel that has snatched the daughter of the Catalonian president. Nick ends up as a reluctant CIA asset on the inside of Javis compound.
This deliberately bonkers set-up is mostly an excuse for Nick and Javi to embark on an unlikely buddy comedy. As cover, Nick starts collaborating with Javi on a screenplay, which allows for a riff on Cages extensive and extremely eclectic filmography, with references to The Rock, The Wicker Man, Con Air, Guarding Tess, The Croods 2, Moonstruck, Adaptation, Vampires Kiss, and, of course, eternal audience-fave Face/Off.
More than that, the film is a giddy celebration of cinema of all kinds, from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to Paddington 2 (It made me want to be a better man.) Its about why we love movies, all kinds of movies, from high-art masterworks to populist pleasures to outright trash.
Javi is intent on writing intelligent character-driven drama for grown-ups, while the CIA (!) chimes in with suggestions for Hollywood blockbuster hooks. Unbearable Weight itself miraculously combines both these things. Its an examination of friendship and family and mid-life regret and renewal, and its also full of car chases and gunplay and even a few sublime Cage-ian freakouts.
This is a project whose self-referential premise could have gone horribly wrong. Instead, it works, beautifully, mostly because Gormican, Etten, Cage and Pascal are hardliners for tone (as Javi at one point is called). With its originality and verve and freewheeling weirdness, the film makes you realize how rote and calculated so many movies are.
And it gives hope for the future, even in this multiplex multiverse of franchises, reboots and sequels. In one adorably overwrought speech, Javi suggests that Nick Cage possesses a gift that brings light and joy to a dark and broken world.
Amen to that, brother.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.