We gave it an A-
One thing is clear: Jerry Maguire is the ultimate Tom Cruise movie. And another thing: It’s the ultimate betrayal of a Tom Cruise movie. What’s remarkable about Cameron Crowe’s romantic drama is the way it shaggily works the territory between those two statements, ultimately rendering them both true. In the process, it sums up a megastar’s career to date and leaves him poised, refreshed for the next stage. Not bad for a movie about an emotionally constipated sports agent.
The evidence on Cruise is there on the Young Hunks shelf at your local video store. Starting with his first leading role, in 1983’s Risky Business, he has made 15 movies, and of those 15, 13 can be summed up thusly: Callow Can-Do Dreamboat Experiences Doubts, Becomes Stronger Can-Do Dreamboat. (For the record, the exceptions are both otherworldly: Legend, in which Cruise plays a studly pixie, and Interview With the Vampire, which is notable for the fact that the star is not completely ridiculous as an ambisexual bloodsucker.)
Such consistency has earned Cruise critical pasting over the years, but, come on, isn’t this what we have asked of our movie gods since the days of Cooper and Wayne? That they be different from film to film but somehow exactly the same? More importantly, if Cruise doesn’t have great range, he has had directors who do. So while there’s the bonehead trilogy of Top Gun (1986), Cocktail (1988), and Days of Thunder (1990), there are also three movies in which Cruise fills in the blanks with passion and invention: Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money (1986), Barry Levinson’s Rain Man (1988), and Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989).
In between are films that run from thoughtful depictions of young athletes (1983’s high school football drama All the Right Moves) to clanky ”rides” (1996’s Mission: Impossible) to creamy Hollywood thrillers (1993’s The Firm) to mile-high corn (1992’s Far and Away). None of these have asked him to stretch; Interview aside, Tom Cruise doesn’t seem all that interested in stretching. And, oddly, that’s what makes Jerry Maguire a satisfying experience: The movie hews rigorously to the Callow Can-Do Dreamboat schema but, through great writing and inspired support, infuses it with emotions never before seen in a Cruise film — which is exactly why some guys in the audience felt betrayed.
In the home-bound setting of video, it becomes clearer than ever that writer-director Crowe has fashioned an ode to the pleasures of family, real and extended. The key love scene isn’t even between Jerry and Dorothy Boyd, the sensibly starry-eyed assistant played by Renee Zellweger — it’s the moment when Dorothy’s 5-year-old son, Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki), impulsively gives Jerry a hug and you can see the idea of human connection break through the man’s self-absorption.
Jerry Maguire is about the agent’s fumbling baby steps in this new arena. He marries Dorothy, but for all the wrong reasons. He learns there are greater rewards in sticking with a client (Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr., a buoyant id to the star’s uptight superego) than nailing the deal. Cruise adds grace notes to his familiar persona throughout, but he’s playing the same basic tune: His big drunk scene is funny, sexy, and sad — but not as unnerving as it could and, arguably, should be. The real drama is in Zellweger’s performance, as she works heartbreaking harmonic variations around the standard Cruise melody — which becomes far richer for it.
So does Jerry Maguire signal artistic growth for Tom Cruise? Nah. It proves something more unusual: that this star’s persona is as capable of depth as flash. It also indicates how at ease Cruise feels in his own skin — a rarity in an age of jittery shape-shifters like Daniel Day-Lewis. Cruise is currently making a film with Stanley Kubrick: the triumphantly irony-free star directed by the master ironist. At this moment, in a culture saturated with cynicism, Cruise’s stance seems the more daring. A-