Sunday 27 April 2014

Movie Review: Jerry Maguire (1996)

A story about love and the search for life's true meaning set in the cutthroat world of pro-sports, Jerry Maguire shines thanks to one of Tom Cruise's best performances and a terrific script from director Cameron Crowe.

High profile sports agent Jerry Maguire (Cruise) works for Sports Management International and represents many pro sports superstars. He is also engaged to be married to the ultra-competitive and brutally honest Avery Bishop (Kelly Preston). Feeling ill at ease with the artificiality of the business and physically ill after consuming bad pizza, in one night Maguire writes, publishes and distributes a sweaty "mission statement" advocating fewer clients per agent and more personal service. He is promptly fired, and is able to retain just one client: egotistical football star Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Nerdy accountant and single mom Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger) is the only other SMI employee to believe enough in Maguire to quit her job and join his fledgling new business. In contrast, Avery labels him a loser and they break up.

Jerry tries to re-establish his reputation but is rebuffed in his attempts to find clients. His relationship with Rod evolves towards a thorny friendship, while Jerry and Dorothy start to fall in love, despite the protestations of Dorothy's sister Laurel (Bonnie Hunt). But while Dorothy is looking for a long-term father figure for her young son Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki), Jerry admits that he knows little about genuine long-term commitments. Meanwhile Rod wants a new big contract, but his negative attitude and constant complaining don't help his cause. Jerry realizes that he will need to confront what it really means to have fewer clients and provide more personal attention, in both his professional and private lives.

Cameron Crowe's sterling script is a rich, character-driven exploration of values, filled with clever insights, metaphors and warm humour. Jerry's quest to find his place in life is an unintentional journey, launched in the haze of a feverish night, and destined to end only when Jerry strips and rebuilds his soul not on paper but in real life.

His story is a perfect mix of drama, sports and romance, Crowe finding the magic ingredients to create two compelling relationships in Jerry's turbulent life. The friendship between Jerry and Rod is the more complex bond, the affection and trust between the two men emerging slowly after a turbulent, money-driven start. The fledgling romance between Jerry and Dorothy is the avenue for Jerry to come to terms with what he has to offer in his personal life, where slick promises, firm handshakes, marketing spin and shiny smiles are not nearly enough.

Tom Cruise has rarely been better, his portrayal of Jerry a dedicated performance, filled with human foibles and never settling for easy moments. Jerry's initial jaunty self-confidence perfectly fits Cruise's persona, but the the subsequent difficult self-awareness journey takes Cruise to new levels of subtlety and raw exposure, while always remaining real.

Renée Zellweger and Cuba Gooding, Jr. are both excellent as the other two points in Jerry's life triangle. This was Zellweger's breakthrough role, and she gives Dorothy a deep well of passion covered by the dowdiness of a drained single mother. And Crowe finds two extraordinary and heartfelt lines for his lovers in one conversation, Jerry's You complete me and Dorothy's You had me at hello the simplest and most complete expressions of two souls finding each other.

Gooding, Jr. is perfect as an egotistical football star channelling his energy in all the wrong directions and wondering where the big payday is. His signature line Show me the money! is another of the film's enduring legacies.

But Cameron is not satisfied with three strong characters, and he builds a dense ecosystem around them. Dorothy gets advice from her sister Laurel (a sensitive Bonnie Hunt), and she in turn surrounds herself with a squawky support group of divorced women, experts at talking and hopeless at listening. Rod's family includes bossy wife Marcee (Regina King), an out-of-control young son, and extended relatives all fully invested in Rod's financial success.

Jerry Maguire is part competitive sports business, part lessons in bonding, and all heart.

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