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‘Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ Turns SXSW Into the Church of Nicolas Cage

The screen icon grants an audience to his devoted followers at the festival premiere of a meta-comedy about…Nicolas Cage, Superstar

Nicolas Cage as Nicolas Cage in the Nicolas Cage tribute 'The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.'

There he was, sauntering into the Paramount Theatre like he owned it. (Wait, does he own it? The man bought castles and dinosaur skulls and albino king cobras. [One quick Goggle search later] Ok, no, he does not.) The cheers grew louder, then deafening, as he nodded, waved, greeted a few folks and then took his seat. He had on a plaid suit, which he would later explain by saying that he loves shortbread, and this was his tribute to the boxes that house this delicacy. There were a number of famous and noteworthy people in the audience for this late Saturday night SXSW screening, but everyone had gathered to see one person, and one person alone.  And here he was, in the flesh. All hail the king. All hail Nicolas Motherfucking Cage.

The vibe for the premiere of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, the meta-comedy in which Nicolas Cage is finally cast in the role he was born to play — i.e., Nicolas Cage — was closer to a faith-based gathering than a film festival screening, which is not uncommon with the bigger-name, prime-slot SXSW extravaganzas. The festival’s longtime director of film Janet Pierson and her programming team have been great at assembling a wide variety of microindies, music documentaries and scrappy, DIY movies, the kind that tend to get overlooked at a lot of fests — it’s a lovely showcase for low-budget, left-of-center movies, even if the ratio of hits to misses can be off some years. (Full disclosure: PMC, Rolling Stone‘s parent company, owns a stake in SXSW.)

But studios love to bring their bigger, brasher, blockbuster-y comedies and genre outings down to the Austin, Texas festival because the audiences here tends to go nuts over that type of stuff in a way that most fest crowds don’t. Which means that something like, say, the Sandra Bullock action-com/rom-com whatsit The Lost City, which premiered a little earlier Saturday evening, plays like gangbusters regardless of whether it’s the second coming of Romancing the Stone or not. So really, if you were going to unveil Unbearable at any sort of gathering of the cinephile tribes, it would be this one. The unconditional Cage love is strong in these parts. And when you entered the Paramount last night, you were not coming to a SXSW premiere. You were attending the Church of Nicolas Cage.

For a while, Unbearable coasts along on this life-imitating-art-chopping-up-life-for-laughs vibe, giving Cage and Pascal the chance to make a warped, goofy buddy comedy involving dropping acid, tooling around Spain’s coast in a sports car, working on possible screenplay ideas and bonding over the healing power of Paddington 2. There’s a meaty take on the rabbit holes of fame and the wormholes of fandom slithering just beneath the surface, as well as some brain-tickling ideas about the way that a movie star’s legacy and persona(e) can become a prison. It is isn’t afraid to take some off-road detours and side trips in terms of 21st century stardom. The movie loves itself some references and callbacks and in-jokes. If you’ve ever wanted to see Nic Cage tongue-kiss himself, consider yourself extremely lucky.

And then, well…director Tom Gormican and his cowriter Kevin Etten just decide to turn everything into a standard Nicolas Cage action flick, with gunfights and set pieces and rescuing his kidnapped ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) and estranged daughter (Lily Mo Sheen) and battling Javi’s right-hand man as he tries to make a play for taking over the criminal empire. You might remember another Nicolas Cage movie, Adaptation. (2002), going from witty commentary to third-act brouhaha, although that was a heavily ironic poke at Hollywood’s formulaic screenwriting process. That was a real-versus-reel face-off. This just feels like a cop-out.

The logline that had been floating around for a while regarding this film had been that Screen Cage would be forced to re-enact Real Cage’s best-known roles to delight his host and help rescue his family, but if that was once the idea that fueled this hall-of-mirrors project, it’s been left on the cutting room floor. So, per the Q&A session, were scenes of famous Cage creations like Troy and Leaving Las Vegas‘ Ben Sanderson down up in German expressionist make-up — Real Cage’s love of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a running joke — and a lot more interactions between Screen Cage and Nicky, which suggests a lot of great stuff get ixnayed. Memo to filmmakers: Consistently going on about all the great things we’ll one day see on the Blu-Ray, after we’ve just watched a movie characterized by late-act missed opportunities feels like an insult. Enough with the teasing of future pleasures. Who are you, Marvel?

Not that most of the rabid, raging Cage-uns in the audience minded. They were here to see a movie, sure, but moreso to simply bask in the glow of His Caginess. And to see the actor light up when he walked onstage after, the man and his disciples, was to see why star power remains a true-blue reason to go to the movies. Watching him banter with costars and affectionately needle the movie’s creators and, yes, graciously accept a rose (!) from a crowd member made the film itself feel like both an apertif and an afterthought. There was the real massive talent, smiling and laughing in front of the screen rather than on it, carrying the weight of his talent with grace and ease.

From Rolling Stone US