6 Thoughts on Jerry Maguire, 26 Years Later

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Virginia and I continued on a torrid pace of movie-watching, this time watching Jerry Maguire with friends on New Year’s Night. One couple had never seen it. I hadn’t seen it in more than a decade, maybe closer to two. Anyway, I reacted to it a little differently than I did back in 1996. Some thoughts — and, spoiler alert, I’m giving it all away. The movie is 26 gosh-darn years old …

1. Let’s start with the biggest one. Jerry never changes. The movie’s big emotional payoff comes at the end, after this NFL agent’s only player/client provides a miraculous performance that forces the ownership’s hand and results in a new, big, deserved contract. Jerry comes home from a road trip he didn’t need to make, and then gets credit for returning. He interrupts the divorced women’s support group held at the home Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) shares with her sister to let her know he’d thought of her during this professional success and that “you complete me.” It’s presented as a seismic (and lasting) shift, but I’m not so sure.

  1. Dorothy gave him the line
  2. He had nowhere else to go, and
  3. Jerry never acknowledged, thanked or appeared to learn anything from the people around him.

At best, Jerry is a glib cad with a killer smile, well versed in a caffeinated, bro version of commitment. He’ll kill for you, but will he listen to you? Even when has nothing else to do but listen?

At worst, he’s a relational black hole. Late in the movie, when he and Dorothy are struggling to communicate, her son Ray shows up in their bedroom, jumps into bed, and Jerry places Ray between them and pulls the boy toward him. It registers on Dorothy’s face, and in my head, as “drop that kid. He’s not yours.”

Zellweger and Cruise. Did they learn anything?

2. Cuba Gooding and Regina King are prophets. Or Cassandras. Rod Tidwell is a talented football player looking to be compensated fairly for his efforts. The movie keeps making the point that somehow he has an attitude problem. However, we spend a fair amount of time with Rod on the field and around the locker room, and we never see him do anything that could put off his coaches or teammates. He challenges Jerry, but nobody else. It’s as if a black man demanding a modicum of respect is problematic. Marcee and Rod are a couple we’ve seen plenty in the past quarter-century, people of color supporting each other when nobody else will. Jerry’s climactic scene, the one that I think we’re supposed to see as transformative (for Rod), is when he levels with Rod and tells him to stop complaining and perform. But when hasn’t Rod delivered?!? There’s zero evidence in the film for why he shouldn’t deck Jerry for the comment. But he takes it. 

3. The movie punches down on the women’s support group in a pretty awful way. The group is portrayed as a brood of spinster harpies.  Surely they must be ready to poison the water for Dorothy and Jerry at the first opportunity. But quite the contrary — the women never say a bad thing about Jerry, despite the fact that any observant human beings (including the movie audience) are aware he is not living up to his end of his professed commitment. They would be completely justified to murder him behind his back — and to his face. But they never do. Instead, they’re wholly supportive of Dorothy. Also, why in the world are they present in the final scene? They are framed in the scene as if a jury, there to adjudicate the romantic life of Dolores and Jerry. But they know their place, and they stay the heck out of what they probably see as another drama king move by Jerry. They say nothing, they don’t clap, they don’t boo, they just look awkward — until Jerry moves along and  they can get back to their true business of supporting own another. And the woman who speaks up next is right! It is the best women’s support group they’ve ever been a part of.  

4. The gravity of a child. One thing the movie gets right is that a child can birth a family. Ray certainly does in this movie, providing the relational gravity to keep everything together until the adults can create a sustainable ecosystem. This isn’t just a movie thing. I’ve seen it in real life. That said, again, Jerry is pretty creepy in the way he leans into Ray’s affections. Jerry doesn’t seem to get that Ray loves EVERYBODY. The kid makes friends in the baggage claim at the airport, for Christ’s sake. But Jerry, who mistakes attention for affection, immediately takes a shine to him. And like I said about that scene late in the movie, there is certainly a threatening sense that Jerry might try to win Ray over from his mom if push comes to shove.

5. The precarious perch of professional athletes. The movie comes along after North Dallas Forty and Brian’s Song and other films, but one thing the movie adds to the discussion of the vulnerability of pro athletes is that it’s very clear-headed that the point of doing this is more about generational wealth (the life-changing contract) and less about love of the game. That Rod’s hold-your-breath moment is a head injury, given all we’ve learned in the past decade about concussions and CTE, was prescient, as was the hockey-player’s son who gives Jerry the bird for not looking our for his dad. 

6. One question I’m left with is, if the movie didn’t end where it did, how would things be two months later? Did Rod’s loyalty win Jerry new clients? Is he now flying hither and yon because business is booming? Is Ray asking why he hasn’t seen Jerry in three weeks? Has Bonnie Hunt hired somebody to break Jerry’s legs, or worse?

Maybe I’m too cynical or pessimistic. Maybe Jerry has learned his lesson, THE lesson, and has made his young wife a true partner in their life together. But I’m not sure.

What I am sure is that Dorothy is right when she tells Jerry “you had me at hello.” The movie plays that as a good thing. And it’s right — for Jerry. For everyone else, we could use a sequel, or maybe just a YouTube short.

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