Jerry Maguire

There is no earthly reason that I should not have seen Jerry Maguire by now. I was alive and going to the movies regularly in 1996. That year, I saw five of the top 10 highest-grossing films (Independence Day, Mission: Impossible, Ransom, The Rock, and A Time To Kill), and I’m fairly certain that I already knew enough to appreciate Cameron Crowe. I certainly loved Fast Times At Ridgemont High (which Crowe scripted) by then, as well as Say Anything… (his writing-directing debut). Post-2000, the reasons for me not seeing Jerry Maguire get even fuzzier: Crowe made Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky, two movies I enjoyed immensely. Why didn’t those films force me to go back and check out Jerry Maguire?

Maybe it was a subconscious aversion to romantic comedies, or perhaps the fact that Jerry Maguire has so invaded the mass consciousness that I felt like I’d already seen it. (I even got all the references in the Will Ferrell/Chris Kattan-fueled A Night At The Roxbury.) “You had me at hello”—I know that shit. “Show me the money!” Yup, I got it. “You complete me”—used it to get laid many times, both out loud and in sign language. But hey, I’m in the mood to be emotionally manipulated, so let’s see if watching Jerry Maguire for the first time in 2009 works, shall we?

Overall, it did. There’s plenty to dislike about the movie—Tom Cruise, some cheesiness/unbelievability, the bloated run time—but for a rom-com, Jerry Maguire isn’t terribly rom-commy. In fact, it’s mostly about one dude’s struggle to get over himself, and if that guy weren’t Tom Cruise—who in subsequent years has proved that he cannot and will never get over himself, hail Xenu—this would be a wholly different movie.

But that’s a digression: In spite of Cruise’s personal life, he makes a pretty perfect Jerry Maguire. At the movie’s outset, though, I was worried that I was in for something even more straightforward than I feared. Cruise has a typically movie-licious crisis of conscience—the kind that rich, successful people never have in real life. He’s a mega-fabulous sports agent with a roster full of successful up-and-comers, and he’s getting rich and getting laid. But he realizes—in that way that people never do—that he’s actually pretty lonely and unfulfilled. In an early scene’s cheesy voiceover, he asks, “Who had I become, just another shark in a suit?” Later he says, “I hated my place in the world.”

Now, we’d all probably like to think that we’re capable of throwing material comfort out the window in pursuit of loftier, less greedy goals, like loyalty and personal relationships, but in reality, I don’t think it happens very often, and never to a guy like this. But when Jerry Maguire took its first turn—when Cruise almost immediately regrets publishing his “mission statement” about the evils of sports agents and how to fix them—it grabbed me. (You could say that it had me at hello. Then later it lost me a bit, then had me again.) Cruise plays Jerry Maguire as conflicted almost throughout, as a guy actually struggling to make a transition, and who accidentally forces himself to take a life-changing leap.

He’s fired, of course, and all but one of his clients choose to stay with the big agency rather than strike out with Cruise and the mousy-but-secretly-beautiful assistant (Renée Zellweger) who falls in love with his manifesto. Somewhere in there, the movie splits into two separate romantic comedies, or rather one romantic comedy and one bromantic comedy. The oily womanizer Cruise must reconcile his feelings for Zellweger (and her so-adorable-you-want-to-smash-his-face moppet of a son, Jonathan Lipnicki) and his feelings for the one client who doesn’t dump him—Cuba Gooding Jr., a fiery wide receiver with attitude problems who’s looking to get his contract renewed.

I was actually pretty taken with how naturalistically those two relationships evolved: Zellweger dumps Cruise because she knows he’s not really in love with her, just lonely, and Cruise eventually grows fond enough of Gooding to tell him the truth about his game. (Of course, the fact that everything works out wonderfully and quickly is a little easy, but this is the movies.) Rather than executing a series of broad gestures drawn with even broader strokes, the characters actually seem to get to know one another. I even fell for the “you had me at hello” tearful reunion scene, which answered a question that annoyed me throughout the rest of the movie: “Why the hell are we wasting time watching this divorced-women’s group that was clearly gathered from central casting?” Oh! So Tom can declare his love in front of them, and prove that not all men are evil, thus saving even minor characters!

But by that point in the movie, I was ready to be forgiving. There were plenty of genuinely funny moments (“Are you Hootie?”) to lay the groundwork. Of course everything had to turn out okay, with two nuclear families smiling, and lots of money for everybody. Every once in a while, a dose of this sort of thing—administered carefully—is probably good for a cynic to take. While it still isn’t nearly as powerful as something like, say, last year’s Ballast (see it!), Jerry Maguire was all right by me. Better late than never.