Director: Cameron Crowe
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Cinematographer: Janusz Kamiński
Producer: Cameron Crowe, James L. Brooks, Laurence Mark, and Richard Sakai
by Jon Cvack
This is one of those movies I’ve seen more times than I can remember, though I haven’t seen it in probably nearly six to eight years, providing one of the most significant evolutions in cinema I’ve had; in which a movie that I always enjoyed but never found great, suddenly shifted into a masterpiece. I never completely understood what it was about, providing the bizarre experience where previously Tom Cruise was so much older in all previous viewings; working a world that seemed exciting regardless of the problems. I’m now his character’s age and better able to grasp all his professional and personal struggles.
Jerry MaGuire is a Ivy League law school grad and successful sports agent at one of the industry’s top firms, mentored by one of the industry’s greats, Dicky Fox (Jared Jussim) who provides countless motivational, one-line aphorisms that are delivered so well that I always it was real guy playing himself.
In a fast and brilliant opening, we see that Jerry MaGuire has grown disillusioned by the agency business and his company SMI, in particular; in which the to take on as many clients as possible to maintain leverage in contract and brand deal negotiations has caused a disconnect between the agent and the athlete. One of his clients, a football player, has had his seventh concussion of the year. The player’s kid asks what MaGuire is going to do about it. MaGuire offers a patronizing response while checking his beeper, and the kid tosses an F bomb in response. MaGuire has a mental breakdown later that night, shivering in a hotel room, feeling as though his life contains zero purpose beyond making money. Amidst the despair, he writes a “Mission Statement” throughout the night, declaring that the firm should take less clients and maintain more personal relationships.
The next day, Jerry leaves the mission statement to each of his colleagues who offer him a round of applause as he enters the lobby, with Jerry’s protege Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr) telling the dad from Grounded for Life, Rick (Donal Logue), that Jerry won’t last more than a day. We also Renée Zellweger) as she watches the hosanna.
We follow Dorothy onto the plane where we’re introduced to 90 cinema’s favorite toddler Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki) as they fly in coach, ogling at first class. Dorothy eavesdrops as Jerry recounts the story of his recent marriage proposal to the attractive and flirty woman next to him until the stewardess closes the curtains and shutting Dorothy out.
At the baggage claim, Dorothy has lost her son. Jerry MaGuire hears her desperation and offers to help, finding Ray riding on the baggage claim. Dorothy thanks him and mentions how she loved Jerry’s memo. It’s here that we receive the first taste of Jerry’s character. Both in that he doesn’t recognize Dorothy, even though it’s a small office, and that he proceeds to talk about himself, specifically his mission statement (correcting that it’s not a “memo”); never asking anything about her or her kid.
The next day back in LA, Bob Sugar takes Jerry out to lunch and fires him, knowing the crowded restaurant would prevent Jerry from overreacting. They return to the office and Jerry rushes to call his clients and retain as many as possible, including the NFL draft all star Frank “Cush” Cushman (Jerry O'Connell; in his best role next to Stand by Me (1986)). One by one, they reject him, mostly on account of the brand deals and leverage SMI has; demonstrating that their motivations are no different than the agent’s. The athletes want the best agents to get the most money possible, and SMI wants as many clients for the same purpose.
Jerry gets his hotdogging and mediocre NFL receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) on the phone, who with brilliant direction from Camera Crowe, we see living in a decent sized house which is covered in ants and his cheap brand deal bunting scattered across the walls. Rod believes he’s worth more, frustrated in failing to receive any of the deals that his teammates receive; refusing to see that his arrogance and greed combined with subpar ability are what’s preventing the money from rolling in. The conversation takes far longer than Jerry can afford and he watches as each of his clients hop off the phone; all except for Cush and his father who fail to give a definitive answer.
Jerry leaves and we see why Bob Sugar took him to the restaurant, as Cruise enters into one of the film’s most famous and cringey scenes as he orders his assistant to pack up her things and head out with him. He’s going to start his own agency. She says she’s months away from getting benefits and can’t afford it, and Jerry asks if anyone else will join him. After a long and awkward pause, Dorothy agrees, packs up her belongings and joins him.
He flies to meet Cush and his family whose father says they’re going to stay with Jerry. Knowing it’s his golden ticket to future success and disregarding Ro as a result, they all arrive at the NFL draft where Jerry fawns over Cush while leaving Rod high and dry. Rod is fully aware of the play, both jealous and infuriated that his agent refuses to give him any personal attention, even though he’s now only one of two clients.
I had failed years ago to grasp the blatant hypocrisy on Jerry’s part; who although pouring his passion into a mission statement for less clients and more personal attention, he abandons Rod in favor of the golden boy almost immediately. That is, until Jerry is moments from locking down the deal, heads to Cush’s hotel room, and in an incredible scene, has their meeting interrupted by a phone call which Jerry answers, doing his best Cush impression to hear Bob Sugar on the phone explaining that he’s closed the deal with San Diego.
The best line from the scene that I always remembered but had failed to grasp is Cush’s reaction when the father breaks the news. “I just want to play football,” he says, as though the money and leverage Sugar offered had no impact on his decision; when, in fact, it clearly was the number one reason they went with him. Kush doesn't “...just want to play football”; he wants as much money as possible no matter who he has to betray; providing Jerry a grim dose of reality and how the two way street of respect requires both to move in the same direction.
Jerry’s super hot girlfriend dumps him upon learning the news; failing to want to be involved with a loser and punching him out as a send off. Prior, at his Bachelor’s Party, someone had recorded interviews with a bunch of his past girlfriends who all shared the same observation that Jerry could not be alone. Most of us know the sort; a person who can break up a long term relationship and just weeks later enter into the next one. While never explicitly connected, it’s clear that this is another example of his self-centered and self-righteousness; using others in order to make himself feel better.
The story cuts to Dorothy who lives with her sister Laurel Boyd (Bonnie Hunt), a recent divorcee in her late 30s who hosts a group of other divorced women at her house in order to talk out their problems. Similar to when I first saw the film, I noticed how real all of these supporting characters felt; ranging in age from young to too old, in various states of emotion.
Continue to Part 2...
BELOW: Layers upon layers
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