While it’s been widely acknowledged in the field of celebrity studies that fame can have very adverse effects on someone’s mental health, I don’t think we talk enough about how the capitalist machine makes it hard for those people to really connect with family, friends and everyone else around them. This is especially true now, as social media’s clickbait-friendly newsfeeds continue to make life speed by even faster, encouraging us to lean into our most shallow selves for the sake of appearances. It’s no surprise that in such times, the public persona has solidified its grip, in some cases becoming all there is to someone’s personality. The question of how to break free from such conditions is hilariously explored in the new Nicolas Cage movie, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
In a recent interview, Cage said this was one of his hardest acting jobs to date because this time he couldn’t hide behind a character—he was playing an exaggerated, down-and-out version of himself. Despite this difficulty, I think this is one of his best performances to date. Besides the range of emotions we don’t normally get from his performances, there’s also a deep subtlety to his facial expressions.
Cage’s typical acting style is inspired by that of the silent film era, which means he’s known to overact in some scenarios—this was stylistically necessary before sound was used in cinema—so it was great to see him dial it back; it even added a kind of humanity to this role that served the character along with the plot. There are still moments where he goes all out, but they're used sparingly, strategically. In most of his other movies, the overacting pulls me out of the story, it reminds me I’m watching a movie. Here, we’re allowed to sink into the filmic experience, seeing a celebrity whose career is on the decline, who’s spent a lifetime putting his work first, finally starting to face the consequences of doing so. I think this alone provides insight into the social critique at the film’s core.
That being said, I’m not claiming that this movie is a rock-solid political manifesto—though the CIA is made to look foolishly inefficient, they’re ultimately the good guys, and at the end of the film Cage is still a wealthy, white, male celebrity—but it does show the socially-stunting effects of fame, alongside the system that begets fame. Aside from this, it’s simply a hilarious watch. From the dialogue to the physical comedy, you’re guaranteed more than a few laughs as Cage scrambles to save democracy and reignite his career. While it’s obviously not as contemplative as The Northman (2022), it’s definitely entertaining, wildly funny, smartly-written and self-aware. Catch it in theaters while you can!