Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.
For whatever reason, I’ve avoided watching Jerry Maguire for more than two decades. I seem to prefer Tom Cruise in science fiction and action more than I do drama. And yet I think two of his best performances, Born on the Fourth of July and Rain Man are straight dramas. I don’t know what the hang up was, but I just couldn’t come around to pulling the trigger on it. It might also have something to do with Patton Oswalt’s epic stand up routine (seriously, google “Patton Oswalt Jerry Maguire”).
Since I’m probably the last person in the world to see this (even my wife has seen it), I won’t go too deeply into the story. Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is a sports agent, and a very successful one. One day, while dealing with yet another concussion for one of his hockey clients, Jerry is confronted by the man’s son, who more or less tells Jerry that he’s full of shit. Jerry has an epiphany and spends the night writing a 26-page manifesto of everything that is wrong with the business. This earns him accolades in the moment and costs him his job and all of his clients but one a week later. The engineer of his career demise is Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr), Jerry’s protégé. When he leaves the company, he takes with him one person, Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), a widowed mother with a young son named Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki) who has some health issues.
Jerry’s one remaining client is Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), a receiver for the Arizona Cardinals who feels that he has been vastly undervalued and wants a new contract. With only a single client to look after, Jerry goes to work for Rod, but finds it rough going in part because Rod doesn’t have a good relationship with the media or the team brass. While Jerry tries to convince Rod to be more personable and work with him, Rod does his best to actually get to know Jerry, since the content of Jerry’s manifesto was more personal attention. Jerry also manages to acquire the management rights to Frank Cushman (Jerry O’Connell), the projected first-round draft pick, but loses him to Bob Sugar the night of the draft.
And, of course, there’s a romance here between Jerry and Dorothy that seems to focus in large part on Jerry’s and young Ray’s bonding. Honestly, Jerry and Ray make a better couple than Jerry and Dorothy. And of course there are problems, and we’re going to have one of the most famous moments from 1990s cinema to wrap things up.
First off, let’s talk casting. Tom Cruise may well be a crazy son of a bitch, but the man makes good movies more often than not, and with good material, he can be very compelling on the screen. Jerry Maguire as a character spends the first 15 minutes of the film like Cruise’s character through the start of Rain Man and the rest of the time like his character at the end. It works pretty well. Cruise has that rare ability to be earnest really convincingly, and while Jerry Maguire is a flawed character in many ways, there is some real value to his forthright nature.
It’s also a surprising film in terms of both Renee Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr. I’ve never been a fan of Zellweger, finding her decent in Bridget Jones’s Diary and Cold Mountain and otherwise somewhat unpleasant, and yet here, I think she’s pretty good. Again, I have the feeling with her (as always) that any relatively talented actress could do effectively the same thing, but I didn’t hate her in the role and that says something. In terms of Gooding’s performance, he’s an extreme character, but he plays it well, and he makes a genuinely good screen couple with Regina King, who is in many ways my favorite character in the movie as Rod’s wife Marcee.
Ultimately, Jerry Maguire is perhaps too feel-good. I understand the point that the movie is making. It would be almost impossible not to, honestly. Cruise almost literally spells out the entire point of the film toward the closing moments. And while in many ways this is the film’s greatest strength, it’s also the biggest problem. Watch that Patton Oswalt clip; it’s really easy to get to his brother’s reaction without much work.
And so the reaction someone has to Jerry Maguire really comes down to how we want to approach it. We can look at this from the standpoint of a cynical world or we can look at it from the viewpoint of what we want the world to be. I think my reaction to it might well depend on the day. Right now, I think I’d rather view it in a much more forgiving and compassionate light. I want to think that maybe the world isn’t as cynical as I think it really is. I’d like just for a moment for this kind of thing to happen.
So I guess I like it, and it’s another reminder that Tom Cruise has terrible luck when it comes to Oscar nominations, since he never gets nominated in a year that doesn’t have a career performance from someone else.
Why to watch Jerry Maguire: A reminder that Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger, and Cuba Gooding Jr. can be capable with good material.
Why not to watch: While it’s heartfelt, it also dips fully into maudlin toward the end.