Film reviews: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent | Ennio | Happening

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent isn’t the most original piece of movie meta-fiction, but in leading man Nicolas Cage it does have one of Hollywood’s true originals

Nic Cage and Pedro Pascal in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Picture: Karen Ballard)
Nic Cage and Pedro Pascal in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Picture: Karen Ballard)

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (15) **

Ennio (15) ***

Happening (15) ***

Louise Orry-Diquero, Luàna Bajrami and Anamaria Vartolomei in Happening

Nicolas Cage’s brilliance as an actor has been mocked and knocked for the best part of 20 years, but the ironic love he now inspires in fans who primarily know his work from gifs, memes and YouTube supercuts of his craziest on-screen moments has transformed him into the sort of branded celebrity whose fame is largely based on a wilful ignorance of his actual movies.

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Given this, the existence of a film like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is hardly a surprise. Casting him as a misunderstood movie star called – wait for it – “Nick Cage”, the film gives him the role he was born to play but remains far too content to coast by on its one-joke meta premise to do anything interesting with his unique persona.

Sharing the same filmography (and some of the same money problems) as his “K”-less counterpart, this Cage is a creatively insecure wreck whose narcissistic need to perform doesn’t impress his eye-rolling teenage daughter (Lilly Mo Sheen), his affectionate ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) or the auteur filmmakers who can smell his desperation a mile off. After blowing his shot at a comeback role with an impromptu audition in the parking lot of a restaurant (the director he’s meeting is played by David Gordon Green, who directed Cage in the very good 2013 indie film Joe), Cage reluctantly accepts his agent’s offer of a million-dollar pay cheque to attend a birthday party for the mysterious Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascale), a wealthy Spanish businessman, and Cage super-fan, who secretly wants him to star in a movie he’s written.

That’s already a flawed set-up for a self-referential Nic Cage movie given the actor’s avowed workhorse mentality (this is a guy who once made seven films in a single year). Nevertheless, director Tom Gormican ploughs on undeterred, ratcheting up the absurdity with a goofy subplot involving Tiffany Haddish as a CIA agent intent on recruiting Cage to spy on his host, whom the CIA suspects of being the head of a criminal organisation responsible for kidnapping the Catalan president’s daughter.

The maestro Morricone in Ennio

Before long the “real” Cage finds himself in a scenario straight out of a mid-1990s Nicolas Cage action movie – a promising set-up let down by Gormican, whose inability to shoot Michael Bay-style set-pieces on a budget (a la Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz) does break the illusion somewhat.

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Not that the concept is all that original. Galaxy Quest and Mindhorn have already played this card with fictional actors, while JCVD and My Name is Bruce have respectively done it with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell. The film also lacks any of the savvy, Hollywood-skewering satire of Being John Malkovich and the Cage-starring Adaptation.

Indeed, the closest it comes to an imaginative conceit is having contemporary Nick tormented by the devilish Nicky, a projection of his subconscious that shows up looking and acting like the actor in his leather-jacket-wearing Wild at Heart days (he’s played by a digitally de-aged Cage). But what the film does have going for it is Cage himself, who transcends the substandard material and predictable character arc with the sort of expressionistic performance that connects his out-sized persona with something truthful about the creative process. He’s not just in on the joke, he’s in control of it. To paraphrase another film about a supposedly washed-up movie star, Cage will always be a massive talent. It’s the pictures – including this one – that got small.

The new documentary Ennio sees Cinema Paradiso-director Giuseppe Tornatore indulge his professional admiration for Ennio Morricone with an epic-length survey of the Italian composer’s epic career. Though Morricone shot to prominence scoring Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns in the late 1960s, and went on to work with numerous giants of world cinema (among them Pasolini, Malick, De Palma, Tarantino and Tornatore himself), Morricone started out as a musical prodigy and serious avant-garde composer whose innovative film work was dismissed by the classical music establishment for decades. Bringing together a wealth of archive footage and an abundance of talking head interviews, the film is fascinating when focusing on the development of his unorthodox style and the elevating effect it had on Italian genre cinema, but Tornatore’s reverence for the maestro – whom he interviewed extensively before his death in 2020 – makes for a repetitious film as he repeats the same points in an effort to show the influence Morricone has had on pop culture at large.

Set in France during the spring of 1963, Happening zeroes in on a youth culture decidedly less free-wheeling than the ones depicted in the Nouvelle Vague films of the day. Adapted from Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel about a high school girl (Anamaria Vartolomei) whose dream of going to university to become a writer starts shrinking week by week after she falls pregnant, the film plays out like a grim ticking-clock thriller about the bleak reality of life for young women in a country where legalised abortion is still more than decade away. Director Audrey Diwan cannily keeps the camera close to Vartolomei’s Anne, contrasting the sunlight of the school campus with the encroaching horror of her protagonist’s mission to terminate her pregnancy, a clandestine operation that brings to mind Cristian Mungiu's harrowing 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

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