WFTB Score: 10/20
The plot: When slick sports agent Jerry has a crisis of conscience, it almost spells curtains for his career. With the support of his sole remaining client and the one woman who believes in him (plus her son), Jerry starts to get his life back together again, but the personal and professional decisions he makes mean that disaster is always lurking round the corner.
The high-powered world of professional sports – as long as you don’t ask the sportsmen and women to do too much acting – has always provided interesting drama for films, and Jerry Maguire, taking a sidestep to look at the agents behind the famous names, is no exception. Tom Cruise is Jerry, the fast-talking, money-making dynamo who secures lucrative contracts and endorsements for his seventy-two prized clients; but after an ice-hockey player gets injured, he is troubled and suggests to his company that they should scale down in order to provide a more personal service, a suggestion which promptly gets him sacked. His frantic attempts to keep hold of clients results in only two successes, devastatingly reduced to one when brash young quarterback Frank ‘Cush’ Cushman betrays him, at a conference which also costs him ambitious and violent fiancé Avery (Kelly Preston). Maguire is left only with mouthy wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr), whose talent is in danger of being obscured by his attitude.
Jerry’s new office staff consists of a fish called Flipper and loyal accountant Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger), who followed Jerry out of the company door. Though Dorothy’s sister Laurel (Bonnie Hunt) frets over her, Dorothy is only concerned about her precocious son Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki), and helplessly finds herself falling in love with Jerry, who has potential as good father material however cavalier he is with her. But Jerry’s whole future really depends on Rod: rejecting a derisory contract from the Arizona Cardinals, Rod needs to play out of his skin to get the big money he craves. The flip side of this is that if Rod fails to impress or gets crocked, both he and Jerry could be left penniless.
Jerry Maguire achieves a fairly even balance between the sports and the romantic drama, pressing the right buttons at the right time – director Curtis Hanson draws out the inevitable is-or-isn’t-Rod injured scene for an agonising two and a half minutes – and yet, in the characterisation of the key players, I find the film a huge turn-off. This is not so much down to Cruise, who does the slimy shtick really well, even if he gets a bit scary when displaying emotional extremes; or to Gooding Jr, who is always quite engaging, at least once he’s calmed down from the preposterous “Show me the Money” scene.
No, what makes me really dislike this film is Dorothy Boyd. I don’t blame Zellweger for this, though her squinting mannerisms probably don’t help; Dorothy is a simple, simpering woman, so desperate for the love of a half-decent man that she will forgive Jerry anything, especially as Ray likes him. This forgiveness extends beyond him turning up at her house, drunk and obnoxious, and groping her; acting on his own neediness, the pair get married and when Dorothy realises Jerry doesn’t love her, she apologises to him! The sad and slightly incongruous group of divorced women who meet at Laurel’s house are presumably meant to emphasise the joy of being married, but they only throw Dorothy’s spinelessness into sharp relief.
Given that Dorothy is such a doormat, and Jerry so hopeless at getting his emotions out, I think the viewer is meant to love the love story even if he or she doesn’t love the characters. And occasionally the film is very funny, whilst at others it displays great tenderness. But then the film will come up with a moment of unforgiveable crassness, such as the scene at the airport where Dorothy and Ray look longingly at another woman and son greeting their husband/father, before looking at each other. This kind of emotional bludgeoning makes you less willing to embrace the big climax with its iconic dialogue. Even here, whereas “You complete me” and “You had me at hello” are all well and good, it helps if you can forget the rather cringe-worthy “We live in a cynical world. A cynical world…’
Ultimately, Jerry Maguire suffers because it imposes big movie ideals on what could have been a nice little story, forcing Cruise to run the gamut of emotions and attitudes because he’s a big name, just as Rod (spoilers…) proves he’s not injured not by merely getting up, but by dancing, blowing kisses and throwing himself into the crowd. This excess, together with Dorothy’s horrible submissiveness, takes too many liberties with the viewer’s – at any rate, this viewer’s – goodwill.