Jerry Maguire Review

Top sports agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) has it all. But something doesn’t feel right. Late one night, he writes a mission statement, suggesting fewer clients, but more individual care and attention, less chasing money for its own sake. This gets him fired from his agency, and dumped by aggressively sexual girlfriend Avery (Kelly Preston). All he has left are his PA Dorothy (Renée Zellweger), single mother to six-year-old Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki), and one client, NFL wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr).

If Jerry Maguire is Cameron Crowe’s best film, and I think it is, it’s more of a summing up of what has gone before than a new direction. His two earlier films as both writer and director, Say Anything… and Singles were squarely in the romantic comedy genre, differing from each other by the ages of their protagonists. Jerry Maguire takes up where these films left off, and although is still recognizably a romantic comedy (mixed with redemption drama, against a sports background), it’s a much more ambitious film in many ways. Crowe’s two subsequent films, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky, show him venturing into new territory (autobiographical nostalgia and reality-bending SF respectively), even if they retain elements of his original genre.

Take the opening credit sequence, for example. With the help of quick cutting and a voiceover, Crowe establishes his lead character, the background, and gets through what would be the entire plot of a different movie in ten minutes. But Jerry Maguire has only just started. We have to see Jerry fall, before he can rebuild his life and find love.

Jerry Maguire is very much a writer’s film. That’s not to disparage Crowe’s direction, which is very competent – though as I’m sure he would acknowledge, he works with highly talented cinematographers (here, Janusz Kaminski) who provide what visual flair he might lack. Crowe was unlucky not to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (he lost to the Coen Brothers’ Fargo), and you can’t help wondering if the Oscar he did win for Almost Famous was partly given to make up for the earlier loss. Jerry is plainly the principal character, but every other major character gets his or her setpiece, even down to Chad the nanny or “child technician”. Cruise may be the star, but he’s not a selfish leading man here: the rest of the cast get their chance to shine, even when Cruise is on screen at the same time. Zellweger, in her tenth film but pretty much an unknown at the time, is more than a match for her leading man. The most famous setpiece is Gooding’s “Show me the money” scene, which on its own probably earned him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but there are plenty of others along the way, helped along by dialogue sharp enough to sever an artery. (The result seems so effortless you can guess how long it was slaved over: reputedly twenty drafts over four years.)

As with his other films, Crowe is more benevolent to his characters than other directors might be (even unsympathetic characters, like Avery, are given their reasons), but his wit keeps the film away from the worst of sympathetic. The lines he gives to Bonnie Hunt (as Dorothy’s sister, who disapproves of Jerry) add a welcome squeeze of lemon. Even the potentially sticky scenes involving young Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki in his debut film) avoid the worst traps, partly because Lipnicki isn’t too obviously “cute” (he has glasses, for starters) and has an appealingly offbeat quality to him that you have to hope he can carry over into future roles as he grows older. And if you don’t have a large lump in your throat when Dorothy says “You had me at hello”, then this clearly isn’t the film for you.

The previous DVD release of Jerry Maguire (in Region 2 as well as Region 1) was bare-bones, without even so much as a trailer. Now, Columbia has given it the two-disc special edition treatment. And the result? Mixed.

There’s nothing wrong with the transfer, which is anamorphic and in the correct aspect ratio, 1.85:1. For a recent film, everything is as is should be: colourful and sharp, with solid blacks and good shadow detail. This almost made a 10, and might have done if the film had been older, but some minor instances of aliasing (for example, Dorothy’s check skirt in the earlier scenes, Jerry’s tie) drop it a mark. There’s nothing too distracting, though.

Comparing the soundtrack to that on the Say Anything… disc is an object lesson in the difference between an analogue soundtrack remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 and one designed to take advantage of digital sound from the outset. Jerry Maguire is still a dialogue-driven film, but there is plenty of activity to the left and right and both surround channels. This isn’t a film to give your system an overwhelming workout, but it still uses the possibilities of a multi-channel soundtrack to immerse the viewer in the film. There are dubbed Dolby Surround alternatives in French, Spanish and Portuguese, which don’t have the same effect. Unless they have a real aversion to subtitles, I’d suggest that speakers of those languages stick to the English soundtrack. There are twenty-eight chapter stops.

The only extra on the first disc is the audio commentary, featuring Crowe, Cruise, Zellweger and Gooding – which is also on the second disc. On Disc One, it appears as you’d expect, as an alternate soundtrack. On Disc Two, it’s a video commentary: we see the four participants sitting on two sofas, while the film plays in an inset box. The video commentary is divided into ten chapters. Although it can be interesting to watch their body language – Cruise has a hat that hides his eyes; Zellweger can’t bring herself to watch the Jerry/Avery sex scene – seeing the participants doesn’t add very much and seems like a gimmick. As it takes up the full length of the feature on a second dual-layer disc, it seems more like a waste of space. Crowe’s commentaries on Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Almost Famous and Say Anything… (all collaborative efforts) are very good, but this one descends too much into fits of giggles, and doesn’t tell us very much that we didn’t know already. No doubt the four had a good time recording it (as we can see), but I doubt this will be a commentary you’ll return to. The commentary has Spanish and Portuguese subtitle options.

More commentary from Crowe appears on two other extras. There are five deleted scenes (in non-anamorphic 1.85:1) and three pieces of rehearsal footage (full-frame, shot on video). All of these have an optional commentary by Crowe and editor Joe Hutshing. As usual it’s easy to see why the deleted scenes were cut, though they’re worth a look, particularly Kelly Preston’s “Chicago Style” and a single-take semi-improvised sales pitch from Jay Mohr. The making-of featurette (running 7:15) is a standard-issue promo item, consisting of lots of clips from the film plus some behind-the-scenes footage and interview soundbites. At least it shows a little imagination in including interviews with real NFL players. A real sports agent, Drew Rosenhaus, gives us a brief (3:47) presentation on his trade that isn’t all that interesting. The remaining extras are really just padding: a Rod Tidwell TV commercial (0:49), a promo video of Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” (4:28). Including the Jerry Maguire trailer is fair enough, but why is there a trailer for As Good As It Gets? Answer, the film not only shares a distributor with Jerry Maguire, but also its production company (Gracie Films); it’s presumably included on the principle that if you like one you should like the other. Basic, and not always complete, filmographies complete the extras.

We’re talking favourite films here, and Jerry Maguire has easily stood up to multiple viewings since I first saw it in early 1997. Although I’m pleased to see it receive a special-edition DVD release, and have no complaints about picture and sound quality, I have to admit that the extras are a case of quantity outweighing quality. Fox packed a lot into a single disc for Say Anything… (admittedly a film over half an hour shorter), and that shows what this Jerry Maguire DVD could have been.

9 out of 10
9 out of 10
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out of 10

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