Jerry Maguire (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Every time I think Hollywood has slipped beyond redemption, someone in the system produces a film like Jerry Maguire that renews my faith. Apparently, creativity is not dead in the mainstream movie market -- not entirely, at least. This is the kind of movie that reminds me why I started reviewing in the first place. Jerry Maguire is magic on celluloid -- fresh, funny, romantic, and upbeat. You'll leave the theater with a smile on your face and perhaps a tear in your eye.

Personally, I never really bought Tom Cruise as the action lead in Mission Impossible. Here, however, the actor is playing to his strength, which lies in an arena that demands less testosterone. Leave the stunts and explosions to Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Cruise is best when he stays low key and flashes the occasional smile. And, in this picture, surrounded by a superlative supporting cast, his ability shines. Jerry Maguire works because we root for the title character, and it's Cruise's performance that forges the link between his screen personae and the audience.

As the movie opens, super sports agent Jerry Maguire is facing a crisis of conscience (that he still possesses one after working in such a cynical, materialistic business is something of a miracle). He wonders what he has become -- "Just another shark in a suit?" He realizes that he hates himself and his place in the world, and laments that, although he has a lot to say, no one will listen. So, late one night, he writes a Mission Statement called "The Things We Think and Do Not Say: The Future of Our Business". The essay attacks the sports agency business, advocating a more humane approach. The next day, a copy is distributed to everyone in the office. And, although Jerry's co- workers applaud his courage ("Somebody finally said what had to be said"), his bosses are offended, and he loses his job. Only one client, unremarkable Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), elects to remain with Jerry as he strikes out on his own. Also joining him is a 26-year old single mother, Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), who is so moved by Jerry's Mission Statement that she's willing to throw away a safe job to be part of his new venture.

In an era of downsizing and force reductions, it's easy to understand what happens to Jerry. He speaks his mind, crying out for compassion and caring, only to be slapped down. He is branded as a loser because he dares to swim against the heartless, prevalent business currents. Jerry finds himself in deep, uncertain waters, but his indefatigable spirit, bolstered by tireless support from Rod and Dorothy, helps him navigate the most dangerous eddys.

Jerry Maguire is about redemption and love. It's about finding one's heart and soul in a business climate that attempts to rip both away. Writer/director Cameron Crowe, who previously helmed Say Anything and Singles (in addition to scripting Fast Times at Ridgemont High) brings both a strong sense of verisimilitude and a lively wit to his film. Even as Jerry Maguire reaches out to the heart, it tickles the funny bone. Not only does Crowe have a knack for creating multi-dimensional personalities for secondary characters with minimal screen time, but he uses traditional formulas in unique ways to serve his themes. For example, a common sports cliche is integrated into Jerry Maguire in such a way that it doesn't seem cheap or overdone. It's not the point of the movie; it's just another piece in the overall puzzle.

Cruise, always a popular box-office draw, shows why he got to the top. With a fine performance, he forms the glue that holds the production together. Of course, it helps that the cast includes three stupendous supporting actors, not to mention a child performer (Jonathan Lipnicki, playing Dorothy's son) who threatens to steal several scenes on cuteness alone.

Cuba Gooding Jr., who was excellent years ago in his Boyz 'N the Hood debut, but hasn't done much since, invests Rod with a remarkable level of energy and enthusiasm. And, although his favorite phrase is "Show me the money!", we recognize quickly that a love of family, not greed, is what motivates this athlete. Regina King (A Thin Line Between Love and Hate) is wonderful as Rod's fanatically supportive wife. With a standout performance, she transforms what could have been an minor role into something noteworthy.

Then there's Renee Zellweger (The Whole Wide World), who will undoubtedly receive raves for her portrayal of Dorothy, a determined woman following her own vision of the yellow brick road. Zellweger displays an appealing blend of strength and vulnerability, and her chemistry with Cruise is nearly perfect. Their first romantic scene is charged with a playful, but undeniable, eroticism. If there's one downside to the actress' appearance in Jerry Maguire, it's that she's not on screen enough. And, even if Jerry isn't immediately smitten, we are.

While the budding romance between Jerry and Dorothy is Jerry Maguire's most enchanting element, the remainder of the film has the necessary appeal to keep our attention when Zellweger isn't around (Cruise, on the other hand, is in just about every scene). Crowe, who doesn't have a subpar entry on his short resume, has crafted another winner here. In fact, with its attention to detail, top-notch performances, and universal themes, Jerry Maguire marks his most successful movie to date. For anyone who has forgotten the feelings that a wonderful movie can trigger, Jerry Maguire provides a welcome reminder.

Jerry Maguire (United States, 1996)

Director: Cameron Crowe
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., Renee Zellweger, Regina King, Bonnie Hunt, Jay Mohr
Screenplay: Cameron Crowe
Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski
Music: Nancy Wilson
U.S. Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Run Time: 2:18
U.S. Release Date: 1996-12-13
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1