Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Who are you Nicholas Cage?

A memo inspired partly by my friend Eric's open letter to N.C.

Dearest Nick, the dorky dad of the action pantheon, how do you end up in these situations? Stealing cars, unhijacking airplanes, riding motorcycles under an undead sky. This is such a different man from the guy I see before me... a guy whose droll face says, "I just got home from a long day, I need a few minutes on the couch"... a guy whose arch-nemesis is simply the daily grind, whose epic victory is cracking a joke for his kids when they get home from school, asking them inane questions over a family dinner.

So who in God's name convinced you to put on a suit of chain mail and run off for the crusades? Another actor could sell this as an impulsive act of piety; from you, it seems more like a midlife crisis, prolonged by the interminable travel time to the Middle East... a long road trip with your drinking buddy Felsom, who seems much better cut out for this type of thing, though he's much less serious about it.

Here's the thing, Nicholas -- I've seen you play this character before... a man on a long journey, not sure where he went wrong. There too you were crushed by the guilt of a needless murder, by your own brutality at a moment of release. The only difference: at that time, you were on an airplane instead of a horse, and the demon presiding over the carnage was a man named Cyrus the Virus. You strayed far from your wife and daughter, but at least they were there to ground your clumsy army-guy eccentricities.

That grounding is the anchor that makes you SO GOOD -- so recognizable, so perfectly plausible -- every once in a great while, in one movie out of every ten.  Like that time you saved San Francisco from a rogue faction on Alcatraz... you weren't there because you were some sort of master thief or daredevil motorcyclist. You were there because you were a respectable government-employed toxicologist, and they needed someone with your expertise in the field. Never mind that your wife was bizarrely smokin' hot... that happens sometimes, to friendly, awkward, well-compensated professionals.

And there was also that one time, when you dressed yourself and your foul-mouthed daughter up like superheroes and went on a jaunt to ravage the criminal underground. It was just right, because it was YOU -- an awkward dad at heart, a family man who learned his manners in the 50's. A guy whose devotion and insecurity drove him to do unforgivable things.  You were no Bruce Wayne, with all his playboy sex appeal to compliment his amateur vigilante-ism.  You put on the costume because you wanted to indulge your own boyish fantasies, rather than somebody else's.

And like it or not, Nicholas, those characters are you. You've grown out of those edgy early days, when you were putty in the hands of David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, and the elder Coppola. So now that you should be inhabiting dramas and dramedic Oscar contenders, like Clooney has settled into doing, you've instead devoted yourself to wandering around Hollywood looking for that lost inner Jason Statham, aggressively miscasting yourself as an elite action star. Your career, like the lives of your characters, is a permanent mid-life crisis.

And this leaves the rest of us split, tortured, deciding whether to scoff at you or shake your hand... whether to hope that you grow up... or pray that you ride this quixotic motorcycle into the ground, forever content to pursue characters outside your nature and against everyone's better judgment.


Anonymous said...

While many people will cringe at what appears to be an epic midlife crisis for Nic Cage, I have a theory that there is also a sizable target audience out there of balding, weird-looking, non-muscular guys that simply appreciate a weird-looking, balding, American version of James Bond out there (probably mostly in the South). I think Nic Cage brings comfort to these people and, in their minds, brings a level of legitimacy to their brand of appearance.

While I do agree he is better suited to the normal guy put into extraordinary situations, I do try to respect the concept of action movies as male fantasies put on film--and the more a Nic Cage looking motherfucker can look at the screen, reconcile his own appearance with the sex and action that he sees, the more immersed he can be and feel good about how he looks for an hour and a half. In his mind, he says 'Yes. You don't need a perfect hairline, or broad shoulders,, or charisma, to be the guy who has it all and gets the girl--In fact, I bet, in real life, all the baddest carjacking, armbreaking, professional bank robbers out there probably don't look like a dreamy model boy with no scars on his face, or like bodybuilding champions--he probably looks like a balding chain smoker who has too much cholesterol in his diet from all his on-the-go, gas station microwave meals.'

For some reason there's always been a lot of shame associated with being a bald, white, out of shape, middle aged dude, especially when he tries to dress nice or buy a nice car (everyone labels it a 'mid-life crisis,' but most of the time it's the age when a man has responsibly saved his money long enough to buy an expensive toy (and why is there shame associated with that?)) and some genius in Hollywood decided it's Nic Cage's job to spread the word: "Hey guy, don't listen to all the turkeys--we're the cool ones, and it's okay to fantasize about stealing cars and having sex with Angelina Jolie, even at your age." Which is a nice gesture. He's keeping the dream alive for bored, depressed, middle age married white guys everywhere.

But yes, I don't care for these films, he talks like Napoleon Dynamite, but it's not supposed to be funny.


Anonymous said...

This raises the question: What would happen if Queen Latifah, playing the role of a talented New York City fashion designer, made a romance movie where she got to bang Usher in the end? Many people would find it weird and unrealistic (and awkward), for sure--but I wonder if there is a big enough target audience out there that would just love this movie and watch it over and over because it made them feel good.

-Dom (again)