Several years before messing up Tom Cruise's face and going all sci-fi in Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe made this romantic comedy about a sports agent turning his life upside down after one night of sobering honesty which sends his career seemingly spiralling down the tubes. It was a huge hit and, back in 1996, no moviegoer didn't yell out "Show me the money!" whenever possible.
The film follows sports agent Jerry Maguire (Cruise) as he loses pretty much all his clients in one day after writing a much too honest memo/mission statement. One of his last remaining clients is Cuba Gooding Jr.'s football player whose attitude problem doesn't exactly make him the easiest guy to help get a $10M contract. When Jerry is inevitably fired, he takes some fish with him (they have manners) and is followed into the unknown by a single mother working in his office called Dorothy (played by Renee Zelwegger). Jerry tries everything to make his career work as an independent but he ends up losing another important client and putting all his focus on Rod Tidwell (Gooding Jr.) who, despite his money-driven attitude, has decided to remain loyal to him no matter what. Here's a film which could have easily gone down the Elizabethtown route and become a forgettable rom-com about people you don't really care all that much about or even particularly like. Luckily, Crowe balances out the romance with the sports agent plot very well so that the film never spends too much time on one side or the other, keeping the flow of things going at a brisk pace. Also, Cruise's performance is delivered with so much energy and charisma that his character is one that's hard to hate, even if he does act selfish at times or if you're not a fan or the actor. Even Renee Zelwegger, who was known to be more than a little annoying in many flicks when the noughties kicked in, does a good job here playing a vulnerable but strong single mother. Even the supporting cast is on top form with Cuba Gooding Jr. clearly having a ball and giving it his all as Tidwell and Bonnie Hunt in a reliable role.
Jerry Maguire is a happy-go-lucky movie and it walks a fine line throughout between sweet/sentimental and cheesy as hell. The whole thing about Dorothy's kid Ray (played by Jonathan Lipnicki) warming up to Jerry and pushing for him to become his new father is admittedly a little forced and, frankly, a little weird. But it never kills the movie and there are enough cute moments to not make those parts too much of a chore to sit through. Jerry's awkward reactions to this family life that's fallen in his lap are entertaining and help show that his character isn't just willing to jump into a completely new life at the drop of a hat. It's a long movie, especially for a romantic comedy, but it doesn't feel long at all and never wastes one moment, instead using the time it has to develop its characters and the relationships between them slowly. The film is a lot like As Good As It Gets, which came out only a year later, had a strong single mother character, was also nominated for a bunch of Oscars and also starred Cuba Gooding Jr.: both really shouldn't work as rom-coms and should really be sickening but, somehow, they both totally work. One of the main reasons why Jerry Maguire works so well is thanks to its razor sharp script (written by Crowe himself) which is full of memorable lines and moments, full of subtle little jokes and genuinely sweet moments plus boasts an explosive opening and ending not to mention well defined characters all around. Jerry Maguire may be very much of its time, a time where people still lent each other Miles Davies cassette tapes, where the internet wasn't really worthy of mention (until that silly You've Got Mail movie), where Tom Cruise was still a Hollywood god among all who could do no wrong, and yet it still holds up today.
I do definitely recommend Jerry Maguire, it's something of a rarity as it's both an effective rom-com and a great sports movie (without much actual sport in it, granted). Mostly though, it's just an excellent character piece with a Tom Cruise at the top of his game and an overall charming, heart-warming, confident approach.
Kinda hard to resist.