Directed and Written by: Cameron Crowe, 1996 » Region/Time: USA, 139 minutes

Starring: Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire » Cuba Gooding Jr. as Rod Tidwell » Renée Zellweger as Dorothy Boyd » Jonathan Lipnicki as Ray Boyd » Regina King as Marcee Tidwell » Bonnie Hunt as Laurel » Jay Mohr as Bob Sugar.

“Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I have failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my life – I love my wife – and I wish you my kind of success.” – Dicky Fox

Cameron Crowe wanted his hero, legendary film director Billy Wilder, to play Dicky Fox, who appears throughout Jerry Maguire as the title character’s original mentor, but on the first day of filming, Wilder refused to play the role. This character may have only limited screen time in Jerry Maguire, but is central to the film’s examination of a young, working male who still feels like a child, yet wants to become a “man.” It is only fitting that Crowe asked his idol to play this role – the inspiration for Jerry Maguire’s search for responsibility and integrity in a world that makes it easy to avoid the former and all but impossible to achieve the latter.

Tom Cruise gets a lot of flak for his strange personality and the opening moments of Jerry Maguire deliberately play this up. Jerry is egotistical, glib and more than a little shallow. He is a sports agent for a major management firm, and his job is to represent his clients. In an early scene, a star basketball player is in hospital with his third concussion. Jerry Maguire’s slick and insincere responses to the concerns of the player’s young son lead him to a realisation that he has become a person he does not want to be. As a result, he spends all night typing up a manifesto, a new ethical vision for his company, entitled “The Things We Think, But Do Not Say” which he promptly distributes to his entire company. Cameron Crowe has stated that Jerry’s mission statement was directly influenced by Jeffrey Katzenberg’s tirade upon leaving Disney. Needless to say, upon issuing this mission statement, he is unceremoniously fired by his protégé, Bob Sugar.

As he starts his own business based on his new moral outlook (with his only two clients, Rod Tidwell and first-round draft pick “The Cush”), he takes one employee from his old company, Dorothy, an accountant. Inevitably, they fall for one another, although in Jerry’s case, because he is on the rebound from a failed engagement. Jerry also falls equally as hard for Dorothy’s young son, Ray. Although the character of Ray walks the line between cloying and endearing, I think he is pretty realistic portrayal of a bright five-year-old boy. To Jerry, Ray represents a way of becoming responsible, and marrying Dorothy would make him an instant father. Jerry believes rushing into “adult” situations will turn him into an adult, but as I would argue this is the real arc of the movie (and not the romance), he doesn’t reach adulthood until the end of the movie.

Cameron Crowe is always lauded for writing brilliant scripts with eminently quotable dialog (more about that later), but his visual sense is often overlooked. The scene in the restaurant during which Maguire is fired is an excellent example of this. As in any such moment in a person’s life, Jerry notices the details around him: the woman laughing at a nearby table or the water beading on his glass. Crowe manages to convey this familiar feeling through a well chosen series of edits. In another scene, he is at dinner with Dorothy and his only remaining client, Rod Tidwell and his wife, Marcee. They are celebrating a contract and Rod and Marcee express their happiness and love, kissing and touching one another. The looks that pass between Jerry and Dorothy, and his belated attempt to hold her hand tell us visually all we need to know about the state of their relationship. No dialogue is necessary.

As an ex-journalist for Rolling Stone magazine, Crowe frequently injects music as integral parts of his movies, and this one is no different, most notably in a scene in which Jerry, in a celebratory mood, scans the radio for a song he can sing along to. He ends up finding Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” and belts it out as he drives through middle America.

This musical moment is also one of the many high points of Cruise’s performance. Although Cruise is frequently accused of being unable to act, the level of desperation he conveys throughout the movie could not have been done better by any other actor. Watch how Tom Cruise depicts Jerry as he gradually falls apart. He is especially funny in a telephone conversation with Rod, trying to keep him as a client.

This movie also boasts career-best performances from Renée Zellweger and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Seeing this movie again reminded me that Zellweger didn’t always squint her way through her roles and that Cuba Gooding used to be able to act. Most notably,however, I was reminded of how many of the film’s lines have worked their way into the zeitgeist. Casablanca immediately comes to mind as a movie with a comparable amount of quotable lines. “You had me at ‘Hello’”, “Show me the money!”, “Help me help you!” and, of course, “You complete me” are all memorable.

This film is probably the most “Hollywood” film on my entire list, but it is honest about hope, failure and love, and who doesn’t want to feel good at the end of a movie? Unlike many happy ending films, this one earns it. The film ends with Jerry’s success as a husband, a friend, a father and a businessman and then the quote at the start of this article. Quite simply, the message of the film can be boiled down to this: “grow up!”

Up Next in the Film Canon: The Cost of Being a Parent.