Nicolas Cage carries 'The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent' : Pop Culture Happy Hour In the action comedy The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent, Nicolas Cage plays a fictionalized Nicolas Cage. This down-on-his-luck version of the actor must get out of a jam after he is offered a million dollars to attend the birthday party of a potentially deadly superfan, played by Pedro Pascal. Also starring Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz and Sharon Horgan, the movie gets meta as it draws heavily on the Cage's career and long history of eccentric performances. Vote for your favorite American Idol contestants at npr.org/AmericanIdol

Nicolas Cage carries 'The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1092810011/1094011057" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:

"The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent" isn't just an action movie starring Nicolas Cage. Lots of action movies have starred Nicolas Cage.

AISHA HARRIS, HOST:

No. This action movie stars the actor Nicolas Cage as the actor Nicolas Cage, who must get himself out of a jam after he attends the birthday party of a potentially deadly Nicolas Cage superfan. I'm Aisha Harris.

THOMPSON: And I'm Stephen Thompson. Today we are talking about "The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Joining Aisha and me is NPR contributor Cyrena Touros. Hi, Cyrena.

CYRENA TOUROS, BYLINE: Hey, Stephen.

THOMPSON: It is great to have you here. So the Nicolas Cage in this movie is a fictionalized version of Nicolas Cage, but the script does draw heavily on the actor's career and long history of eccentric performances. In this story, Nicolas Cage is a down-on-his-luck actor who is estranged from his family. He keeps getting passed up for roles and winds up taking a gig where he's paid a million dollars to fly to Spain and attend the birthday party of a wealthy superfan played by Pedro Pascal. That's where things take a turn. When Cage gets to his destination, he's recruited by CIA operatives played by Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz, who explain that Cage's benefactor is a dangerous, wanted criminal. From there, he has to figure out a way to behave like a real-life action hero and maybe even prove himself to his ex-wife, played by the great Sharon Horgan, and his daughter, played by Lily Sheen. It's only in theaters. Cyrena Touros, i'm going to start with you. What did you think of "The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent"?

TOUROS: I think right off the bat, there are two camps of people - people who really enjoy meta narratives and stories about storytelling and people who absolutely despise it. So I sit very firmly in the first camp, and this film is doing a lot of that. It's, you know, kind of a commentary on Nicolas Cage's career. It's a story about screenwriting and also about the state of the film industry right now. And so all of that lands for me. But I can see almost immediately that this is not going to land for a lot of people who don't want to be maybe, like, patronized about how much they love Marvel films. For me, Nicolas Cage is more of a meme than a person at this point. I kind of grew up in the generation where he was an actual meme.

Lest you forget, Nic Cage, you know, many years back, kind of ran out of money and started doing whatever work came his way to pay off some of this debt. So he ends up in these wild films with, you know, people he doesn't necessarily vibe with. But he's kind of an actor who gives, like, 200% to every role. I don't think you can fault him for that. He's a weird guy, and I appreciate that. I actually read that when he was approached to do this project, he had to be approached several times because he just thought it was maybe a bridge too far to play himself and his own story here. And that immediately made me be interested in what the movie was going to be doing because I was like, if Nic Cage said that's a bridge too far, that has to be extreme.

(LAUGHTER)

TOUROS: But I really do think it lands for me.

THOMPSON: How about you, Aisha?

HARRIS: So there is this excellent episode of the TV show "Community," where Abed, one of his students played by Danny Pudi, takes a course called Nicolas Cage, Good Or Bad. And that's the premise of the class. It's like to try to figure out whether he's a good actor or a bad actor. And the conundrum is like he goes and he makes movies like "Moonstruck" or "Leaving Las Vegas," things that are a little bit more prestige, we should say. And then he makes, you know, "Mandy" and all these other very, you know, direct-to-video films.

And I say this because when I come down on this movie, obviously it's very meta and it is commenting on this conundrum of whether he's good or bad or something in between, I came down on the execution of this as being kind of mid. I was hoping for something a little bit more light and fun or dark and fun. And I feel like the pacing for me for this film didn't quite connect. And as of this taping, I've only just watched it, like, about 12 hours ago. So it's still percolating in my mind. But there's something I was experiencing as I was watching the film, which was I didn't feel the jokes landed at the time they should have landed. And there were scenes that didn't really have an arc or any sort of flow. There are moments where it kind of cuts abruptly. One particular scene, the Pedro Pascal character, jumps into the pool to maybe rescue Nicolas Cage because he's just made the statement about how we're all going to die and blah, blah, blah, blah. Then he jumps in the pool and looks very depressed. And then Pedro Pascal jumps into the water. And then, like, the clip ends.

So I struggled with this film, even though there were lots of things that I also enjoyed about it. I thought Pedro Pascal is just a very fun character here. He's clearly - he's got all this money, but he's a Nicolas Cage superfan in a way that's slightly creepy but also still kind of endearing because it's Pedro Pascal. And he just has that, like, face that you want to, you know, scrunch up. It's just so cute.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT")

PEDRO PASCAL: (As Javi Gutierrez) Bye, Nicolas Cage. I'll never forget you, man. Now you get the hell out of here. You go.

HARRIS: I like that he was having fun. And I thought that Nicolas Cage himself was very dedicated to the role. But something about the pacing and just the way I feel like it didn't quite go as far as I wanted it to go in terms of just being weird and quirky. Like, it seems like it was trying to do that, but it didn't land for me. So I came down as like Nicolas Cage, "Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent," middle - very middle, not good or bad, just kind of in the middle.

THOMPSON: OK. Interesting. I'm kind of in between the two of you. I feel like you could make a case that this action comedy could always kind of every step along the way have been like 10% to 15% funnier. And I think the premise is so promising and the trailers are so promising that it's easy to expect this film to deliver a little bit more than it does. But at the same time, to me, I don't know what you're describing about the pacing, Aisha. To me, it lent the sense of this film being this very pleasant, kind of knockabout, ambling, funny, silly, absurdist story that I just really dug and enjoyed. I appreciated that this movie kind of gets in and out a little bit more quickly than a lot of movies like it. It felt like it wasn't trying to pile on too much.

I agree with Aisha that Pedro Pascal is super charming in this movie in a way that he didn't get to be in "Wonder Woman 1984." I really found Pedro Pascal enormously appealing. I enjoyed this film. And, like Cyrena, I am a sucker for this kind of meta "Being John Malkovich"/"Adaptation" kind of story within a story - what's real? - what's not? I dug that. And so every step of the way for me, I just found this movie kind of ambling along agreeably. And I liked it but not loved it pretty much every step of the way. Did either of you really tap into any of the many, many, many Nicolas Cage references...

HARRIS: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...In this film? And did you feel like it was necessary to be kind of neck deep in Cage-iana (ph) (laughter) in order to fully appreciate it?

TOUROS: Yeah. At the beginning of quarantine, my roommates and I thought that we might start watching all of the Nicolas Cage movies before we realized that was an impossible task. So I caught some of the references, but I don't think anybody is qualified to catch all of them...

HARRIS: (Laughter).

TOUROS: ...There's just so, so many.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

HARRIS: Yeah. I cannot call myself a Nic Cage expert or completist by any means, but I did appreciate the references that I did see. I loved the younger version of himself. I think those were probably my favorite moments, was, like, the "Wild At Heart" era. Clearly there's, like, some CGI going on there 'cause his face - he looks younger.

TOUROS: Just a little airbrushed.

HARRIS: A little airbrushed. Our CGI still has not come far enough because his eyes were kind of vacant (laughter) in a way that Nicolas Cage's actual eyes are not usually (laughter). So - but I really loved that sort of seeing the two of them combat and how he's kind of the angel/devil on his shoulder, like, the "Wild At Heart"-era version of him. And I thought that was really, really fun. And there were just enough "Con Air" references that I was like, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

TOUROS: You know, speaking of his alter ego, which in the movie, they call Nicky...

HARRIS: Yeah (laughter).

TOUROS: ...That alter ego has a line. He says, you're not an actor. You're a movie star. And that made me think of what Linda was saying a couple weeks ago, you know, watching, like, Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in "The Lost City" and just, like, how fun it is to watch movie stars. And I think Nic Cage does have this duality of, like - he can commit to a serious role when he wants to. But I think he is just kind of, like, delightful to watch as he goes kind of unhinged. I mean, he delivers this, like, insane monologue in one of the first scenes of the film. He's, like, reading on-site when the director really doesn't want him to.

HARRIS: (Laughter).

TOUROS: Like, he has that star power. And I think that fuels a lot of what makes this film interesting to me, and, like, the way a person grapples with star power when they're not working. I feel like Nic Cage has this, like, ruthless commitment to exploiting capitalism as much as it's exploiting him, which, like, mad respect. Like, even within the premise of the film - like, if you want to fool a rich person into spending money on you in a misguided act of affection, like, I fully endorse that.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: I'm glad you mentioned "The Lost City," though, because I think that was another aspect of - the fact that, you know, the Channing Tatum character in that movie is a cover model. But then, like, when they're both - both of those characters, him and Sandra Bullock, are actually in the jungle, it's very clear that neither of them are actually adventurers. They don't know what to do. So the action scenes are very much like, oh, this is harder to do than, like, the narrative version of this. I thought that this movie kind of tapped into that a little bit whereas, like, Nicolas Cage clearly has an ego about being a star but also thinks that being a star in action movies can translate into the (laughter) real one...

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: ...To him being, like, a spy for the CIA. And I like the way - how they play with that. And it's like, no, this is actually really difficult. And there's a difference between being a movie star and actually (laughter) being with the CIA, (laughter) you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT")

PASCAL: (As Javi Gutierrez) OK. You just run up there, you get the truck, you come back and get me. I will keep a lookout.

NICOLAS CAGE: (As Nick Cage) Love it. Love the plan. But maybe you should go, and I'll stay here.

PASCAL: (As Javi Gutierrez) I love that plan, I do. But you are a faster runner than me. I saw how fast you were in "National Treasure."

CAGE: (As Nick Cage) No, that'd be the stunt department.

PASCAL: (As Javi Gutierrez) Not according to the making-of featurette.

THOMPSON: I'm really glad you guys both brought up "The Lost City"...

HARRIS: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...Because there really are a bunch of parallels between those movies. They're both these kind of mid-budget April releases, kind of action/comedy throwbacks a little bit. And, yeah, they are both about how perceiving yourself as an action hero and then being thrust into an actual action...

HARRIS: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...Situation are two (laughter) very, very different things. I did enjoy those kind of recurring jokes and scenes about that. As far as the Nicolas Cage - getting back to the question of favorite Nicolas Cage references, any time you make a joke about "Captain Corelli's Mandolin"...

HARRIS: (Laughter) Yes.

THOMPSON: ...I am completely there for it.

HARRIS: I still haven't seen that movie, but I remember it being panned to death, just, like, beaten to death when it originally came out. Like, is it a cult now? - cult favorite or no?

THOMPSON: I think "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" is the actual, like, the ultimate prototype of that podcast "This Had Oscar Buzz".

HARRIS: Ah, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: You know, I think "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" is the ultimate "This Had Oscar Buzz" movie.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: I did want to talk a little bit - kind of a little bit bigger picture about Nicolas Cage and kind of where he's at in his career and kind of - could you have made this movie if he were doing any better or any worse in his career?

HARRIS: I'm glad you brought that up because I couldn't help but think about this whole Bruce Willis situation, where earlier this year, he announced that he is stepping down because of a health issue. And it sort of correlated with these questions - these same questions that have been asked of Nicolas Cage for years is like, why is Bruce Willis making all of these, like, direct-to-video films? Last year, I think he had, like, six or - upwards of six or seven movies come out throughout the year. Of course, it arose that he had health issues. And obviously, they are two different actors and at different places in their lives. And it did make me, you know, wonder about how we judge actors and how we judge the choices they make. Nicolas Cage has said, like, I think of this as work.

THOMPSON: Right.

HARRIS: Yes, it's art, and yes, I'm committed to this, but it's also a job for me. And I kind of - I really appreciate that aspect of it because it's not like a (laughter)...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

HARRIS: ...Oh, you know, like, all about my art and blah, blah, blah. Like, he acknowledges this is still work for me. I still get a paycheck. He's usually been a bankable star, but he is a A-list, depending on the era, A-list, like, actor, working actor. And there's a difference between that and, like, someone who's opening a - although to be fair, Nic Cage has also made lots of blockbusters, like "National Treasure."

THOMPSON: "National Treasure"...

TOUROS: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...Is a massive, massive...

HARRIS: Yeah.

THOMPSON: ...Massive franchise.

HARRIS: I can't imagine another actor of his caliber who would be able to make a movie like this. Like, he seems very uniquely positioned in a way that I think a lot of his contemporaries, and those who came before him, have never been. Like, I can't really compare Nicolas Cage directly to anyone else.

TOUROS: Yeah. I was going to flip your question, Stephen, of, like, it's not necessarily whether or not this movie works if he's at a worse or better point in his career, but, like, does this movie work at all if it's a different actor? I mean, it's written almost for him, but I...

THOMPSON: Sure.

TOUROS: ...Had a hard time thinking of another actor who was kind of, like, both, you know, maligned enough for us to root for them in this story, but also had the chops to make it work. And also, Aisha, to your point, I think he actually says in the film the line, I never viewed it as a career. I viewed it as work...

HARRIS: Yeah.

TOUROS: ...Which was very compelling to me, as somebody who's also, you know, trying to make the thing that they love into a career.

HARRIS: Yeah.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, even the premise of this film is at some point he is offered a million dollars to go to somebody's birthday party. And there is a point where, like, even if you are a famous actor, would you not take a million dollars to go to somebody's birthday party?

HARRIS: Yeah. There has definitely been this trend lately of trying to uncover this other complete career path that a lot of musicians, especially, but also artists take, which is that they are invited by some rich heir or whatever...

THOMPSON: Right.

HARRIS: ...To perform at their parties, and how that's, like, an entire industry now, but people are still embarrassed to, like, admit it, like, depending on how big you are. Like, Sugar Ray have, like, openly admitted it. So it's an industry, but, like, in a way, it's seen as taboo, or it's seen as, like, beneath you if you are taking that money to just, like, show up. And Nicolas Cage isn't even a - well, has he made music? He's probably made music.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: But, like, no one's inviting Nicolas Cage to their party to, like, perform music. Like, he's there to be Nicolas Cage...

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: ...And that's what he does.

THOMPSON: Yeah. It's safe to say that work is work no matter what you do.

Well, we want to know what you think about "The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent." Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh or tweet us @PCHH. Up next - what is making us happy this week?

Now, it's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week - what's making us happy this week. Cyrena Touros, what's making you happy this week, buddy?

TOUROS: I've been following this artist on Tumblr for, like, at least five years - maybe even almost a decade. Her name is Alison Zai, and she makes these, like, bold, colorful, weird little comics starring - it almost looks like a bunny. And often the bunny is pink, and it's just, like, having an existential crisis. And she is actually releasing a book next month. It's called "Weird To Exist: Simple Comics About Complex Emotions." And I'm putting in a pre-order now, so what's making me happy this week is Alison Zai and her new book coming out May 24, next month. And in the meantime, you can find her on Tumblr at alison zai - that's Alison with one L, and Zai is spelled Z-A-I.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Cyrena Touros.

Aisha Harris, what's making you happy this week, pal?

HARRIS: It is Syd, formerly...

THOMPSON: Yeah.

HARRIS: ...Known as Syd Tha Kyd. She has released her latest album, "Broken Hearts Club." And - ah - it's such a bop. I really, really, really love it. There's a lot of Prince-y (ph) vibes, which - if there are Prince-y vibes and it's coming from the right artist, I'm all for it. And she is - ever since The Internet, which - I think she still works with them, but her band were - you know, they had a lot of sort of neo soul, very sensual, lovely - and some bops as well. But, like, just hearing her voice in this sort of newer realm is great. I think one of my favorite songs on the album is definitely "Right Track." Let's take a little listen to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIGHT TRACK")

SYD: (Singing) Feel like we're on the right track. Keep it up. You keep me comin' right back. Yeah. I might be tryna to wife that. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

HARRIS: If you love Syd and you haven't listened to this album yet, I highly recommend it. It's "Broken Hearts Club."

TOUROS: Co-sign for me as well (laughter).

HARRIS: Yes. So good.

THOMPSON: I love that Syd took a break from her unfindable-on-search-engines band, The Internet...

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: ...To put out solo records as Syd (laughter).

HARRIS: So hard. Yes (laughter).

THOMPSON: That is S-Y-D. Excellent pick, Aisha Harris.

My pick for what's making me happy is also music-related. Nothing says it is about to be summer, Nothing says it is about to be a good day quite like the return of Lizzo.

HARRIS: Ah, yes.

THOMPSON: The great and good Lizzo - one of the great breakout stars of the before times, namely 2019. Lizzo had this absolutely magnificent kind of coming-out party in 2019 with a truly wonderful album called "Cuz I Love You" and then has spent the last few years mostly keeping quiet. They have finally announced that she has a new album coming out July 15, called "Special." And she hosted "SNL" and was the musical guest on "SNL" and, as host, introduced herself as musical guest on "SNL" with her new single, "About Damn Time."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ABOUT DAMN TIME")

LIZZO: (Singing) Turn up the music. Turn down the lights. I've got a feelin' I'm gon' be all right. OK. OK. All right. It's about damn time. Turn up the music. Let's celebrate.

THOMPSON: It's got your Lizzo catchphrases. It's also tapping into a little bit of that sound that like Daft Punk helped bring back, that Dua Lipa has really picked up on, of, like, neo disco roller skating jams, and I am all about it. It portends well for the otherwise fraught summer of 2022.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: Lizzo has been making me happy for years and years. The return of Lizzo is what is making me happy this week.

That brings us to the end of our show. If you want links for what we recommended, plus more recommendations, sign up for our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter.

One last thing before we go - I'm really excited about this. We want to know - who are your favorite "American Idol" contestants of all time? You can vote now at npr.org/americanidol. Again, you can vote for your favorite "American Idol" contestants at npr.org/americanidol.

That brings us to the end of our show. Cyrena Touros, Aisha Harris, thanks to both of you for being here.

TOUROS: Thanks for having me.

HARRIS: Thank you.

THOMPSON: This episode was produced by Mike Katzif and Candice Lim and edited by Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. Thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Stephen Thompson, and we will see you all next week, when we'll be talking about the new Apple TV+ series "Slow Horses."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.