Monday, December 16, 1996

Shelter from the Storm

Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire is a movie that is sort of an anti-Seinfeld. Instead of being about nothing, it is sort of about everything. What starts off as a movie about a slick sports agent who suddenly develops a moral conscience, turns into a love story and covers a half dozen other topics along the way. In other words, it is the perfect movie for viewing on a cold gray Saturday afternoon on only your second trip to the Mega Mall with a friend who has just broken up with her longtime boyfriend.

The movie stars Tom Cruise, and it really could star no other actor. The part seems written with Cruise in mind, sort of an update from the character he played in his '80's defining role in Risky Business. Maguire may not be the quickest at catching on to what is going on around him and more importantly inside of him, but eventually the depth within overwhelms the shallowness that his exterior portrays.

The movie also has strong performances from Cuba Gooding Jr., as Cruise's only client, Rene Zellweger as Cruise's business partner and wife, and also Bonnie Hunt as Zellweger's "disapproving" sister. It is in these performances that the strength of the movie's writing really comes through. It is apparent that each of the three has their own "sad stories" as the Zellweger character describes it, but each has come to a self defined realization of who they want to be and who they currently are. Their relationships with Cruise allow us to follow the path that takes Maguire from a selfish and greedy yuppie, to a lost and searching still sometimes manipulator, who ends up discovering and reflecting upon his own weakness until he is complete.

The movie begins with him staying up one night after a confrontation with the son of one of his clients, and writing a new mission statement for his firm that calls for them going less for the money and more for what they all apparently got into sports to begin with, namely fun and love of the game. He is of course fired for his radical idea and new morals, and the only ones to stick by him are Zellweger and Gooding (who is constantly entertaining as the pampered star wide receiver).

In Risky Business Cruise played a high school student who learned the pitfalls of pursuing the Capitalism trap of making money without the corresponding reward that comes with a honest work ethic. In Jerry Maguire he learns much the same lesson only he is able to show others around him the need to put as much passion into their work as they do their own private lives. In return he learns the polar opposite, the reward that comes from developing intimacy with others, to get beyond the glossy lifestyle that comes with major league sports.

At times it feels as if the movie is trying to say too much; cover too much ground without getting beyond the surface. But as Cruise assails the cynicism of the world around him he gets engaged in a simpler world, through his relationship with Gooding, Zellweger, and Zellweger's young son (played by Jonathan Lipnicki). The movie unfolds like one of those white paper snowflakes we all made as children, where you cut out little patterns but it is not until you open it that you actually can see what you have created.

If Risky Business defined the '80's as an age of greed with the make money by any means mentality, Jerry Maguire paints a more optimistic portrait of the 1990's. This decade isn't so much about 12 step support groups that allow everyone to claim themselves as victims, it's more about taking responsibility for personally fixing what is wrong in one's life. There is a balance to be struck between the personal and professional. The message is about striving less for winning at all costs and more for finding that something or someone which will make you complete.

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