Nobody in their right mind would say that Cameron Crowe is (or, judging by how far his Hollywood career plummeted after everyone turned up their noses at the star-studded Aloha, always was) terrible at making movies. Yet over the years, it seems as though my body has become increasingly allergic to everything and anything he touches.
There’s really no other way to explain why I practically adored Say Anything… and Almost Famous a while ago, to the point of even writing a gushing review of the latter. (Warning: it’s basically just one long, confusing run-on sentence. 14-year-old me really could’ve used some grammar lessons.) Whenever thinking of them now, however, I either draw a mental blank or outright cringe (remember that moment at Famous’s climax where the otherwise-likable protagonist, William Miller, forces a kiss on a near-unconscious girl? Remember how Crowe framed this repellent act as beautifully romantic?).
So it’s hard not to ponder how I would’ve liked Jerry Maguire if I’d seen it at the right time, but due to an insignificant sex scene that’s obscenely drawn out over—*checks notes*—a whole five seconds (this, along with a light sprinkling of F-bombs here and there, is literally the only thing justifying the R rating; still bold territory for a director whose sensibilities have always been more PG-13 than not), my parents strictly prevented me from going near it until now, when I’m at the ripe old age of 17. [NOTE: To avoid confusion, this review was published near the day of my 18th birthday: August 28, 2021.] Anyway, it’s not all that great.
And regardless of my own personal biases regarding Crowe, I truly wanted it to be. I wanted Jerry Maguire to be the one where the hype was truly justified. The one that would hold up just as well in my youth as it would in my adulthood. The one where, in one glorious second, everything finally came together and I’d say “Ah, that’s why my preteen self loved We Bought A Zoo so much [true story].” Even though Fast Times at Ridgemont High—not directed by him, but the screenplay is entirely his— and his sharply polarizing followup to Famous, Vanilla Sky (a remake of Alejandro Amenábar’s lesser-known Open Your Eyes), could still be worth seeing, that second never came.
Not that Jerry Maguire ever approaches being unpleasant or painful-to-watch. Even at its very beginning, when its titular character (Tom Cruise) is kind of a selfish jerk, Crowe’s energetically snappy direction makes this surprisingly palatable. A shame, then, that he too quickly has a moral epiphany that instantaneously turns this snarky sports agent into the cutesy, cuddly (though still quick-witted) Cruise everyone within earshot secretly wants to take out for dinner.
Yes, this is very clearly a personal-redemption-type story (and one apparently inspired by the life of Leigh Steinberg, a real-life sports agent who acted as a technical consultant on the film’s crew), so I don’t have a problem with this character going through this type of arc. I have a problem with him going through this type of arc in the first 10 minutes of this 139-minute movie, then essentially turning into a boring rom-com cliché from there. This doesn’t make his deservedly Oscar-nominated performance any less admirable, but the same just can’t be said for the character he’s portraying.
If Crowe had made Maguire unlikable the entire movie, that undoubtedly would’ve been inappropriate for its good-natured tone (and keep in mind that even when he was unlikable, that didn’t automatically lead to me enjoying the film more than I otherwise would’ve), but wouldn’t it have been more interesting for him to, as his warm relationship with single mother Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger) strengthens in the wake of his entire career abruptly crashing down, more slowly realize the slimy errors of his ways, thus making such thickly layered uplift feel more earned?
(Imagine if Little Miss Sunshine—a feel-good movie that, due to it being far smarter and funnier, genuinely left me feeling good for a change—suddenly zapped all its vivid, yet realistically flawed characters into goody-goody family-movie stereotypes before even stepping into that yellow van propelling their journey to California. Not such a memorable ride now, is it?)
Jerry Maguire’s remaining 129 minutes do tell a story, but with such thin characters and narrative developments from that point onwards, it (mostly) feels like this story could just end anywhere. Much as I’d like to deny it, the uniformly great acting (even the child actor portraying Dorothy’s son was better than expected), crisp cinematography, monumentally successful soundtrack, and slick—if, in my opinion, pretty overrated—comedy (much-quoted lines like “You had me at hello”, “Help ME help YOU”, and, of course, “SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!” aren’t bad, yet didn’t get so much as a chuckle from me) did woefully little to make me feel less checked-out throughout. Not much time passed before, with a resigned inner sigh, I sadly accepted that Jerry Maguire’s earnest charm would never fully win me over.
The thing is, Crowe’s films aren’t annoying simply because they’re sentimental, easily digestible crowd pleasers, but because they’re so transparently overeager to meet that criteria that, more often than not, they can’t climb out of their deep, sickly-sweet pool of sappiness. There’s just not much other substance for me to latch onto, and combined with such a pointlessly bloated running time, it’s not an experience I’d want to return to anytime soon.
Everyone needs a break from the world’s all-encroaching doom and gloom at some point, though my flavor of such escapism is more satisfyingly realized in fare like Palm Springs, Groundhog Day, and Punch-Drunk Love (not to mention Sunshine). Not everyone’s is the same, obviously, so if you feel like Maguire’s potentially could be yours, don’t let my grumpiness discourage you from seeing it yourself. Just ignore this review altogeth—wait, you’re at the end of it now. Whoops.