Friday December 13, 1996
As a top agent at Sports Management International, Jerry Maguire has always wanted more. More clients, more money, a more desirable girlfriend, possibly even more phone calls than his daily average of 264. Then one day there is no more, and Jerry Maguire can't even guess what will happen next.
As a filmmaker, Cameron Crowe has always wanted a different kind of more. Starting with his script for "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," he's been pushing for more character and less convention, smarter comedy and sharper relationships.
But Crowe's quirky debut films as a director, "Say Anything" and "Singles," weren't all there, leaving audiences convinced of his ability but dissatisfied with the results. Now, with "Jerry Maguire," that promise is realized.
With the cooperation of Tom Cruise, being all he should be in the title role, "Jerry Maguire" shows how to use Hollywood stars and traditional romantic comedy forms to build something satisfying and personal. So much the opposite of high concept that attempts to boil it down to a sentence (or a coming attractions trailer) miss the point, this is a wholly unexpected film, as heady and surprising in its humor as in its emotional texture.
Utilizing an offbeat story arc that trusts us to be savvy, "Jerry Maguire" also finds the space to deal with what the worship of money and success is doing to cultural values and, almost incidentally, to offer a believable look at the pluses and stresses of interracial friendship. Not bad for what might be mistaken for a charming little romance.
Crowe's core idea, and one of his shrewdest, was to place all of this where it fits best, in the world of professional sports, where honesty and trust are suspect and the victory at all costs ethos covers all manner of cutthroat sins.
Jerry Maguire is not only of this world, catch-phrases like "no one said winning was cheap" allow him to flourish in it. With his practiced grin and high-wattage confidence, Jerry's shark-in-a-suit persona is, initially at least, perfectly in line with the characters Cruise has played in the past--what "Top Gun's" Maverick would look like with briefcase in hand.
Then, late at night in his millionth hotel room, something happens. Maguire has "a breakdown or a breakthrough" and writes a feverish manifesto titled "The Things We Think and Do Not Say: The Future of Our Business" that questions his firm's greedhead policies.
Naturally he's fired within a week by protege-nemesis Burt Sugar (a cruelly funny Jay Mohr). Making it worse, in a sequence of manic comic brio, Sugar works the telephone like a virtuoso, insisting that "it's not show friends, it's show business" and grabbing all of Maguire's clients.
Not quite all his clients, it turns out. Maguire still has an outside shot at retaining top NFL draft pick Frank Cushman (Jerry O'Connell). But the one athlete he has for sure is also the one client he might not have minded losing, Rod Tidwell (a brash success for "Boyz N the Hood's" Cuba Gooding Jr.).
A wide receiver in the last year of his contract with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, Tidwell makes up for a lack of height with a larger-than-average attitude. A nonstop talker dismissed by his team as a locker room malcontent, Tidwell decides that Maguire is the man to renegotiate his next contract into the eight-figure range he has no doubt he deserves.
Paralleling his lone client is the one person Maguire convinces to leave with him when he's drummed out of SMI. Accountant Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), a low-level drone he has barely noticed, and a single mother to boot, was so touched by that late-night mission statement that she quits and agrees to an uncertain position as Maguire's entire office staff.
The kicker for Jerry Maguire in his new stripped-down life is that, as all his ex-girlfriends testify, he cannot stand to be alone. "Great at friendship, bad at intimacy" is how he puts it, and watching the directions his enforced closeness with Dorothy Boyd and Rod Tidwell take him is this film's great pleasure.
While the one-line "hotshot gets fired and faces consequences" outline of "Jerry Maguire" is nothing new, the film itself is fresh and refreshing due to Crowe's outstanding script (he spent four years on it, counting well-spent time for research) and his ability as a director to bring everything to life on screen.
"Jerry Maguire's" actors are key here, starting with Cruise, who shows a willingness to explore the darker implications of his usual persona that parallels in a romantic comedy way what John Wayne did in "The Searchers."
As loved by the camera as any actor of his generation, Cruise starts with the familiar but expands to show his character in extremis, with the self-confident grin pushed to the cracking point. It's his ability to play this both ways that keeps the question of whether Maguire can become a recognizable human being an open one all the way to the end.
The buzz around co-star Zellweger has been intense ever since she was plucked from the independent film world to play opposite Cruise, and it's a pleasure to say she's worth the advance praise. Sensual and offbeat, with great relaxed comic timing and the ability to glow without being glamorous, Zellweger's way with the interplay of feeling and humor makes her the film's emotional center.
Surrounding these two is a remarkable supporting cast, starting with the irresistible Jonathan Lipnicki, the only movie kid you'd really want in your own life, as Dorothy's son Ray. Also outstanding (in addition to those already mentioned) are Kelly Preston as Jerry's girlfriend, Bonnie Hunt as Dorothy's sister and Regina King as Rod's wife, all benefiting from Crowe's ability to write characters that are real and distinct, each alive in their own particular way.
The argument can be made that Crowe's four films form a chronological progression from "Ridgemont High's" teen crises to "Jerry Maguire's" more intractable grown-up situations. Yet it's this film's satisfying premise that even as adults we're all capable of receiving what the Bob Dylan song played over the final credits promises, a little "Shelter From the Storm." Even Jerry Maguire.
Jerry Maguire, 1996. R, for language and sexuality. A Gracie Films production, released by TriStar Pictures. Director Cameron Crowe. Producers James L. Brooks, Laurence Mark, Richard Sakai, Cameron Crowe. Screenplay Cameron Crowe. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. Editor Joe Hutshing. Costumes Betsy Heimann. Music Nancy Wilson. Production design Stephen Lineweaver. Art directors Virginia Randolph, Clayton Hartley. Set decorator Clay A. Griffith. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes. Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire. Cuba Gooding Jr. as Rod Tidwell. Renee Zellweger as Dorothy Boyd. Kelly Preston as Avery Bishop. Jerry O'Connell as Frank Cushman. Jerry Mohr as Bob Sugar. Bonnie Hunt as Laurel Boyd. Regina King as Marcee Tidwell. Jonathan Lipnicki as Ray Boyd.