Review: Jerry Maguire

Tom Cruise is the title top sports agent, who in a somewhat alcohol-fuelled epiphany pens a long ‘mission statement’ urging his company to refocus on being more people-based, less money-oriented, and stop indulging the egocentric, overly pampered athletes. Quietly, everyone pats Jerry on the back for it. But at work? Well, he finds himself out of a job, replaced by soulless Jay Mohr, and with only faithful employee Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) willing to jump ship to work for Jerry. Dorothy is a single mum with an extremely precocious, but ill child (Jonathan Lipnicki) to look after. They don’t even have a very promising client list, either, with only Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) staying loyal to Jerry. Tidwell is a talented footballer, but a massively egotistical and easily distracted one. Meanwhile, romance blossoms between Dorothy and Jerry (who adores young Lipnicki), but is workaholic and noted commitment-phobic Jerry able to make it work? Jerry O’Connell plays another athlete with Beau Bridges his heavily involved father, Bonnie Hunt is Dorothy’s protective sister, Regina King is Rod’s extremely bossy (but absolutely devoted) wife, and in what feels weirdly incestuous to me, Kelly Preston plays a trashy girlfriend of Jerry’s who leaves him when he gets fired.

I’m not as high on this Cameron Crowe (“Say Anything…”, “Almost Famous”) sports drama/romance from 1996 as a lot of others are, but it nearly works. The romance certainly works, but the sports drama aspect kinda flops. After the first scene in which the title character seems to have become disillusioned with his whole profession, we spend the next two hours with him basically doing just the opposite all over again. It’s bass ackwards, when you think about it, and certainly redundant at the very least. The film has an extremely cynical view of athletes as corporate sell-outs, screw-ups, and egotists…but makes all these points before the end of the opening credits! It’s insanely poor screenwriting from the normally intelligent and perceptive Crowe. He’s given us the ending at the beginning, so that when the ‘Show me the money!’ scene comes, it’s actually not necessary (Which is a shame, because it’s a good and amusing scene showing the desperation of these sports agents). Oh, and Crowe also has no idea what a mission statement is, because they are meant to be short and succinct. Jerry’s is practically a freakin’ in-flight magazine.

Thank Jeebus that the romantic department works, mostly due to the thoroughly winning performance from Renee Zellweger. I, like a lot of people, quickly tired of the increasingly bee-stung Zellweger, but here she is simply outstanding and has never been better. How good is she? She manages to help one ignore a couple of awkward moments; 1) The unrealistic scene where she gets up and walks out on her job to work in a risky venture with Jerry. As a single mum with a sick kid, it’s crazy for her to give up a stable job on a whim. Not impossible, just crazy. 2) I’ve never bought Cruise’s final speech. The dialogue is cornball and overdone, and if I wasn’t fully invested in Zellweger’s character, I would’ve gagged. But Zellweger even manages to get you to forget that her love interest just uttered the words ‘You complete me’ to her and she didn’t punch him in the face. That’s star quality right there, folks (Though now I think of it, ‘You had me at hello’ is just as putrid. Totally overwritten dialogue that no one with any shred of self-respect would utter in real-life).

Aside from having to deliver that dud line, Cruise is persuasive and absolutely perfectly cast. Meanwhile, noted scene-stealer Bonnie Hunt (Remember the perfectly timed knee to Dennis Quaid’s groin in “Something to Talk About”?) and child actor Jonathan Lipnicki almost manage to steal the film from Zellweger. Hunt gets the film’s best line to Cruise: ‘If you fuck this up, I’ll kill you’. Lipnicki may have been a one-trick pony, but here he gives the biggest and best scene-stealing performance by a supporting actor in the 1990s not named Christopher Walken or Samuel L. Jackson. He was a real find. I also have to say that Jay Mohr is pitch-perfect casting meets pitch-perfect performance, and Regina King is absolutely frightening as the ball-breaking ‘footballer’s wife’. Oddly enough, it’s Cuba Gooding Jr. who probably brings up the rear here, and he’s the one who won an Oscar for it. He’s perfectly fine, but deserved the Oscar more for “Boyz N the Hood” than this, a role that Damon Wayans, Will Smith, or Omar Epps could’ve played in just as good fashion. However, it’s more that the rest of the cast is stellar than Gooding being underwhelming, because he’s absolutely fine. He has charisma in spades, and full credit to him, the character would’ve been a punchable, unlikeable toolbucket in a less amiable actor’s hands. His best and funniest moment is singing ‘What’s Goin’ On’ at a wedding. Even his wife isn’t havin’ none of that.

The film is overlong by fifteen minutes and seriously uneven and overrated, but whenever Zellweger or Lipnicki are on screen, the film is hard to resist. I think Crowe has made a mistake in the way he has structured the film, to be honest. As is, it’s a mixed bag.

Rating: C+


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