Friday, 1 August 2014

Review: Jerry Maguire

Big-time sports agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) 'handle[s] the lives and dreams of 72 clients and get[s] an average of 264 phone calls a day.' Even though he is at the peak of his glamorous career, certain things trouble him.

The 'shark-in-a-suit' impersonality that Jerry's job requires steadily weighs on him, as do his clients' injuries. A football star's young son asks Jerry: 'This is his fourth concussion. Shouldn't somebody get him to stop?' Jerry checks his pager and impersonally dodges: 'It would take a tank to stop your dad!' The visibly pained kid tells Jerry to go fuck himself, then returns to his dad's hospital room.

During Jerry's bachelor party - in preparation for his marriage to similarly hyper-achieving fiancée Avery (Kelly Preston) - Jerry's friends put on a video of interviews with his many exes. At first the women are  complimentary: 'When I think about Jerry, my heart starts pounding.'

Then the comments start to turn: 'I think it's probably a good idea that Jerry get married. Then he won't be alone.' 'He cannot be alone.' 'He's almost phobic.' 'I mean, Jerry is great at friendship; he's just really bad at intimacy.' 'He can't say 'I love you'.' 'He lies.'

Several exes impersonate Jerry's insincere 'caring' - 'Hey! I love you too!' - complete with the typical Tom Cruise action of finger-point / head-tilt / eyebrow-raise / visible-from-space grin.

That's the one.

A disturbed Jerry has an existential crisis which yields a 25-page 'mission statement' in which he calls for humanity to be returned to his profession:

'What started out as one page became 25. Suddenly, I was my father's son again. I was remembering the simple pleasures of this job...With so many clients, we had forgotten what's important. Suddenly, it was all pretty clear. The answer was fewer clients. Less money, more attention. Caring for them. Caring for ourselves. The games, too...what I was writing was somewhat touchy-feely. I didn't care. I've lost the ability to bullshit. It was the me I've always wanted to be.'

Jerry makes copies of his piece, entitled The Things We Think And Do Not Say: The Future of Our Business, and sends a copy to all of his colleagues. The next day the ruthless, dispassionate Jerry returns and instantly regrets this decision. Jerry's sports agency fires him, and Jerry splits up with his fiancée.

Jerry attempts to take some of his clients and start an independent sports agency with the solitary support of officemate Dorothy ('90s and early-2000s darling Renée Zellweger).

My Take

I loved the start of Jerry Maguire (1996, trailer). I felt that Tom Cruise managed to embody the character of an intense, groveling prick; while also being very watchable: 'I will not rest until I have you holding a Coke, wearing your own shoe, playing a SEGA game featuring you, while singing your own song in a new commercial starring you, broadcast during the Super Bowl in a game that you are winning, and I will not sleep until that happens.'

I wanted to see Jerry humbled. And it happens, spectacularly. Jerry spends his last day at Sports Management International on the phone, frantically pleading his clients to stay with him. Meanwhile, fellow agent Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr) calls the same people to keep them at the agency. '[Sugar] said I don't know what it's like to be a black person?!' Jerry barks into the receiver. 'I'm Mister Black People!'

In the end, Jerry's only loyal client is wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) Tidwell wants Jerry to get him bigger contracts and more money, but Tidwell is obstinate to his coaches and refuses to be in product ads that he thinks are beneath him. So now, former cock-of-the-walk Jerry is reduced to spending all of his professional time serving a guy who is even more arrogant than he is. Seeing these two clash is quality entertainment:

(Jerry): This is a re-negotiation. We want more from them, so let's give them more. Let's show them your pure joy for the game. Let's bury the attitude a little bit, and show them-

'-Wait. You're telling me to dance.'

'No. I'm saying, to get back to the guy who first started playing this game, remember? Way back when, when you were a kid? It wasn't just about the money, was it?...was it?...was it?'

'Do your job! Don't you tell me to dance! I am an ath-lete! I am not an entertainer!'

Utterly infuriated and faced with an immovable object that even his unstoppable force can't breach, Jerry yells 'FINE!' like a petulant child. 'FINE!' he punches the air in rage. 'FINE!' he kicks the wall.

It's really funny.

Based on Jerry Maguire's first act, I assumed that the story would go like this: a materialistic man loses everything and has to find his conscience, learn to be alone, and rebuild his life for the better.

None of this happens.

Jerry Maguire writer-director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) seems to like giving his films bright, brisk beginnings with well-defined protagonists who have clear character trajectories. Unfortunately, Crowe tends to follow up these promising beginnings with sluggish, tedious second- and third-acts that focus on schmaltzy romances that have nothing to do with the proposed character journeys.

Jerry's assistant and sole employee Dorothy agrees to let a drunken, despondent Jerry visit her at her house. He appears at her door sporting several ex-fiancée-inflicted facial wounds. 'I'm so glad you're home', he gushes, teetering and beaming. 'The 'alone' thing is not my specialty.' Then he asks for a drink and wheels around to look for Dorothy's young son: 'Where's the little guy?'

'Jerry.' Dorothy says firmly. 'I can see you're upset, but I don't think it's appropriate for you to be here. I have a four-year-old, and I don't want him to hear a drunk guy stumbling around the house in the dead of night. He barely even knows you. Hell, I barely even know you. Maybe you should talk to your friends about your problems, or your family. Or a shrink. I'll call you a cab, but I definitely won't get you a drink. Are those cuts on your face?!'

Just kidding, she doesn't say that. Instead, the scene is played for laughs: Ha ha, Jerry's drunkenly embarrassing himself.

Dorothy goes to her kitchen to get Jerry something to eat, and Dorothy's son Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki) walks into the living room in his pyjamas and talks to Jerry. Or, he says childlike things like 'Let's go to the zoo!' as Jerry rants about his personal problems. 'Ray', Jerry says, exasperatedly; 'fuckin' zoo's closed.' Again, this is played for laughs: Oops, this unstable drunk swore in front of a kid!

I don't know what Dorothy's thinking. I would never leave my kid alone with this guy; he's falling apart at the seams.

'I broke up with Avery,' Jerry tells Dorothy. Dorothy's face pulls a comedy Oh-my-God, handsome-Tom-Cruise-is-back-on-the-market! jaw drop. She inexplicably moons over Jerry for the rest of the scene, even as he picks up a poker - a sharp, heavy iron spike, I'd like to point out - and waves it around while he paces across the room and says absolutely crazy things: 'Let me tell you something about Jerry Maguire. You come after me, and you lose. Because I am a survivor.'

Ohh, that beautiful man...

At this point in the story Jerry has lost his job and his fiancée, and I expected this to be the part where Dorothy refuses to let him use her as an emotional crutch. Dorothy's sister Laurel (Bonnie Hunt) uses some exceptionally sound advice to encourage her to do this: 'Dorothy, this is not a guy. It's a syndrome. Early mid-life. Hanging on to the bottom rung, Dear-God-don't-let-me-alone, I'll-call-my-newly-long-suffering-assistant-without-medical-for-company syndrome.'

I wanted Dorothy to deny Jerry's desperate clinging. Then, I thought, Jerry would hit rock bottom. Then he'd have to confront being truly alone - his greatest fear - and do some honest-to-God soul searching.

This doesn't happen.

Instead, the film turns from character drama to romantic comedy. Tidwell becomes the obligatory rom-com relationship advice dispenser for Jerry. Dorothy's son becomes the obligatory rom-com single-mom's kid who loves Jerry and so sets the stage for Jerry and Dorothy's union. Jerry and Dorothy get together, then split up, then Jerry declares his love for her at the end and they live happily ever after. Standard romantic comedy story structure.

Jerry's character journey is now abandoned. The only progression his character has is abandoning one love interest in favor of another. All that set-up about how he needs to grow a conscience? Never paid off. Dorothy helpfully pushes Jerry to live up to all the wonderful things he wrote in his mission statement - as Jerry's dominant-asshole personality tries to resist this. Dorothy is Jerry's conscience for him.

Cricket's the name. Jiminy Cricket.

Has Jerry learned anything? He's just ditched one woman for one that can be his conscience. It seems like he hasn't advanced at all. Even his love declaration sounds as desperate and aggressive as ever: 'I'm not letting you get rid of me. How 'bout that?'

Jerry concludes his declaration with his famous line: 'You complete me.' It's one of the most beloved romantic quotations in cinematic history, but what does it really mean? 'I am broken and can't survive without you'? 'I need you to keep me from falling apart'?

Wait a minute. Isn't 'you complete me' just a rewording of 'I can't be alone'? 

I wonder what would have happened if Jerry Maguire's second half lived up to the realistic character study of the first half. I imagine Jerry's constant neediness would drive Dorothy to break up with him out of her own - and her son's - best interests. Then Jerry would probably have another breakdown and realize that a woman isn't going to fix everything for him.

Then maybe Jerry would seek to find out 'what kind of a person am I?', instead of 'what kind of person can this other person make me, if only she'd agree to be my counterpart?'


Further Reading

For more derision of classic rom-coms, you can see my post about Breakfast at Tiffany's.

For a - in my opinion - much more realistic and inspiring perspective on relationships, breakups and soul-searching, you can see my post about Sita Sings The Blues.

Screengrabs: Jerry Maguire was produced by TriStar Pictures and Gracie Films. Images obtained from
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