The Acceptable Nicolas Cage

Look, I dislike Nicolas Cage as much as the next guy. Perhaps it’s related to my distaste for so-called "action "films. Maybe it’s more owing to my disinterest in "tear-jerkers." The simple fact is that our friend Nicolas Cage has made a career out of bouncing back and forth between these two extremes.

To illustrate: Leaving Las Vegas (1995), The Rock (1996), City of Angels (1998), and Gone in 60 Seconds (2000). Now, before you go rushing off to fill up your request queue, bear in mind that I can’t be held responsible if your actually watch any of these films. Nay, my purpose here is to cover a sampling of Mr. Cage’s acceptable body of work. However, consider yourself warned, your image of Mr. Cage may be altered forevermore if you should chose to accept this mission.

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986): Ok, I know... a difficult first pick. Truly, this is not Francis Ford Coppola’s best work. But, you know, at least it’s not The Outsiders. The film in question however, in addition to serving as a nostalgic throwback to the high-school experiences characteristic of early-1960s America, also boarders on the Sci-Fi a-la time-warps, parallel universes, and other such hooey. Think Donnie Darko, only released fifteen or so years before, way hokier, and with an ending you can wrap your head around with just one viewing. While I’m on the subject of Sci-Fi, make sure you approach this film with a willing suspension of disbelief. Not so much for the time-warp stuff, but because of the ages of the lead actors. Nicolas Cage was in his early twenties during production, Kathleen Turner, her early thirties. And while you can explain away Turner’s age by the fact that it’s her character who suddenly awakes to find herself mysteriously transported back to 1960 from the mid-80s, the entire cast appears entirely too old to pass as believable adolescents. We’re used to this by now, right? How old are the Harry Potter kids anyway? Cage is no exception to this rule. Yet, he somehow manages to pull it off, blending equal parts Eddie Haskell and Steve Urkel... only, predating Steve Urkel... time-warps and all.

Raising Arizona (1987): As a child, I cut my Coen brothers teeth watching this film. Moreover, this film is special to me because it was something that my father and I could watch together: Robocop, Rambo, Ren & Stimpy, Raising Arizona, not necessarily in that order. All personal connections aside, there’s really no reason not to watch and admire this film. Its madcap mixture of slack-jawed yokels set the precedent in which the long-running cartoon series King of the Hill would later follow. Nicolas Cage doesn’t fail to deliver on this point. His character, H.I. McDunnough, is an odd mixture of a truck-stop philosopher, your favorite Flannery O’Conner misfits, and Slowpoke Rodriguez. I’ve read that Cage frequently butted heads with the Coens during filming, often becoming frustrated that they refused to listen to his ideas. You can thank the Coens for sticking to their guns. In sum, this thing’s still got legs. Watch it with your dad.

Wild at Heart (1990): This film is everything you’ve come to know and love about David Lynch films, i.e. stark contrasts between extremely dark and frighteningly chipper themes, lots of references to Americana, and a knockout soundtrack. Cage is so convincing in his role as Sailor Ripley, Lynch’s embodiment of youthful exuberance, reckless abandon, and Elvis karaoke, that you’re left wondering why he hasn’t teamed up with Lynch for another film. Perhaps it’s better that way... makes the film seem more precious I suppose. It’s kind of like Natural Born Killers, only much better and won’t make you feel so bad about being a human being afterwards. Bonus.

Adaptation (2002): I know, Nicolas Cage starring in a film adapted for the screen by Charlie Kaufman. But, you know, if we apply the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon litmus test without the Kevin Bacon, we find this isn’t such a stretch. Follow me, Nicolas Cage was in Matchstick Men with Sam Rockwell, Sam Rockwell was in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind that was written by Charlie Kaufman. What is that? Like two steps? Kiddy stuff. The much greater stretch comes in the form of the film’s actual premise. Nicolas Cage is portraying Charlie Kaufman while he is working on adapting Susan Orlean’s book, The Orchid Thief, for the screen. As a matter of fact, Susan Orlean is in the film as well, portrayed by Meryl Streep. Chris Cooper rounds out the cast as the orchid thief in question. Cooper is incredible in this role by-the-way. However, that’s not what we’re here for. Amazingly enough, Cage demonstrates that he’s got the chops to share the screen alongside Streep and Cooper. Well, sort of. I mean, Cage does spend a great deal of the film interacting with his own character or his lazy twin brother Donald, also portrayed by, you guessed it, Nicolas Cage. But whatever, the fact remains that this film has great writing, directing, acting, and oddly enough, you actually come away from it feeling like you’ve captured some of the essence of Orlean’s book. You somehow simultaneously learn about orchids, the ins and outs of orchid thievery, and how burdensome a task writing can be... even though the majority of the film’s substance can’t is entirely absent within its source material.


Michael Wells

Michael Wells is a Technical Assistant at the Kansas City Public Library. He is adept at baking cookies, following directions, awkward silences, and falling over from perfectly stable positions. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in history from UMKC and is currently working on a Master's Degree in secondary-level social studies education. Michael describes his taste in film as "other" on good days and "none of the above" on bad.