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Okay, just jump right into my nightmare, the water is warm.

Jerry Maguire 
(1996)

(SPOILERS) I didn’t much like Jerry Maguire at the time, which I suspect is intrinsically linked to the fact that I didn’t much like Tom Cruise at the time. I’m still not really a massive fan of either, but the latter at least made an effort to rein in his most irksome traits subsequently. Jerry Maguire, however, finds him drawing on the same “bag of tricks” that mystifyingly transfixed his fan base a decade before in Top Gun. Bonnie Hunt suggested the toughest part of the role was “playing a character that doesn’t like Tom Cruise”. I wouldn’t have had that problem. I do not like Tom and Jerry.

Which is evidently not the prescribed response and not the one presumably millions had, responding to – in the manner of swooning Renée Zellweger’s “You had me at hello” – Jerry’s charms. Obviously, Jerry’s supposed to be a difficult character. Cameron Crowe has honed his screenplay, for better or worse, into a wealth of calculated manipulations, and he drags Jerry along a growth arc that duly detonates on the desired spots. What could be better than going from nothing to something? Why, only going from something to nothing and back to something, that’s what.

So Jerry, following his epiphany that he is a cocksure user – “Who had I become? Just another shark in a suit?” – smarming his way through his career at the expense of his clients’ mental and physical health – completely unlike Tom the star – writes a memo, I mean mission statement, in favour of a more caring, sharing sports agency. One that elicits a round of applause, shortly followed by the sack. Thus Jerry, down at heel, becomes a cocksure user of exactly one client, Cuba Gooding Jr’s Rod Tidwell. But never fear, he is devotedly supported by Dorothy Boyd (Zellweger), since she’s smitten with his memo and his golden grin. How could she not be?

Being that I find Cruise, as I noted, insufferable here, when I’m presuming you’re supposed to sympathise or at least empathise with Jerry – only the dependable Jay Mohr can out-ooze the Cruise – it’s difficult to climb on board with his emotional evolution. Which anyway is rather erratic. Crowe writes Dorothy as an emotionally aware doormat who makes continued excuses for Jerry being a dick (she shouldn’t have taken advantage of him when he was vulnerable and forced him into a situation where he felt he needed to do the right thing and marry her. What?) The idea of a man marrying a woman for the kid is an unusual one in movies, and the stuff more generally of suspicion that warming cockles. But Crowe pulls that off, helped in no small part by Cruise and Jonathan Lipnicki (as pint-sized Ray) getting on like a house on fire (even Cruise can’t continue to act the Cruise when he’s opposite a disarming kid).

And the relationship with Rod works for the most part too, since both Jerry and Rod have their growing to do, both are rather over the top and self-regarding, and the bromance crests amusingly (“Why don’t we have that kind of relationship?”). It helps that Gooding Jr takes a gift of a part and sprints with it, making his Oscar entirely understandable. The drop off in decent roles was alarming, but not that uncommon in BSA winners (particularly the actresses). Now, however, he’s likely to be remembered not only for “Show me the money” but also the shower of #MeToo allegations piling up. On Jerry’s side of the equation, you have to wonder, if he really cared, would he still be an agent in football?

The sports agent side sort of writes itself and gives a slew of ready-purposed types who look so much worse than Jerry, starting with Beau Bridges and his promise (“And its stronger than oak”). On the relationship side, Crowe throws in some unconvincing slapstick (Kelly Preston as Jerry’s ex knocks him on his ass). There’s a divorce group meeting in Dorothy and her sister Laurel’s (Bonnie Hunt) house that suggests Crowe has been taking notes from When Harry Met Sally’s “Greek chorus” commentary.

Jerry’s marriage proposal admittedly sends the picture on a different-to-usual route (albeit, in the dramatic-romantic conflict realm, union-then-parting-the-reunion is part of the basic deal), but the key to this is believing in Jerry’s realisation that he does love Dorothy, and I don’t believe it. I believe Zellweger believes Dorothy believes it, and she does a commendable and unenviable job selling the movie’s romantic sincerity when her co-star is screaming “Fake!” (I’ve never been a great Renée fan either, but rewatching this, I feel I may have misjudged her, if only on this occasion).

Tom, though, is about as sincere as his couchburst almost a decade later. Swallowing the movie’s message isn’t helped any by Crowe either, who loves laying it on with a trowel. He’ll underline in indelible marker every emotional cue (see how unhappy Jerry is in the wedding video!) And he has a music track for every occasion, often ones designed to overwhelm the picture, rather than simply complete it. He nurses an essentially sunny disposish, somewhere between a John Hughes for adults and a Joss Whedon for musos, rather than movie heads. He creates fantasy worlds, which is fine (or not so much, judging by the receptions of Elizabethtown and Aloha), but that means the casting has to click or the sugary dream in a cloud of choking aspartame.

Which isn’t to say a less aspirational ride would have been the way to go. I don’t think Janeane Garofalo would have worked – too pithy – and definitely not Edward Burns – too lacking in an iota of charisma – but Jerry tests your Tom tolerance levels to the max. He’s basically Maverick redux.

Jerry Maguire’s deep vein of horrific sentiment/melodrama was obviously a rich seam, since Titanic surfaced the following year and did win the Oscar. If the picture’s presence in the race was completely out of place, it’s also merely part of the Academy’s history of recognising crowd pleasers to boost the ratings, something that has largely been forgotten in recent years. Regina King has obviously moved on some since 1996, now getting to hold forth wokely at the big event. Perhaps the most surprising thing here is that Janus Kamiński’s cinematography is mostly… fine? There are a couple of very blue scenes, but you might mistakenly conclude he was just a normal DP, not someone who’d lead the charge in the desecration of the visual arts over the next quarter of a century.

Jerry Maguire doesn’t do much for me, then. It certainly doesn’t complete me. It still visibly boasts those catchy lines and slickly sculpted highs and lows, but to repeat my mantra: to like Jerry Maguire you really have to like Tom Cruise.


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