"The key to this business is personal relationships."
Jerry Maguire is one of the best uncomfortable movies I've seen. There are moments of real joy, but they are always punctuated by reminders of how the real world is. The wonderful thing about Cameron Crowe's movies is that, ultimately, the characters live in a real world. The difference between Crowe's real world and say, Scorsese's real world, is that to Crowe, the real world is a good place to be. Movies are usually an escape from the messiness of reality, but Crowe's are a celebration of it. Now the film gets a special edition treatment, and is officially a cornerstone of any complete DVD collection.
Facts of the Case
Jerry Maguire is a success. His life seems to be perfect, with a beautiful girlfriend and an enviable salary as a sports agent, rubbing elbows with celebrities and winning the world over with a smile. Jerry has doubts inside though, and he becomes tormented by the idea that he is a complete phony. He writes a mission statement espousing the importance of ethics in business and hands it out to the entire company. They are unimpressed, and think Jerry has gone off the deep end. The sole exception is Dorothy, a single mom touched by the gesture, who leaves the company to help Jerry get his own business going. They begin to fall in love, but they find out that even love born of the sweetest intentions takes work.
The first time I saw Jerry Maguire a few years back, I watched it in a daze, thinking it was another "Tom Cruise wins" movie. I liked the kid with the glasses, I liked Cruise fine, but I just didn't care about what happened to this hotshot. Until the very end. I don't want to give it away, but there's a small final scene where Bob Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm" is playing. "Shelter from the Storm" is one of my favorite songs, and one of the best songs about love ever written. Hearing it changed my mindset about the film I had just been watching. I thought it was either the grossest interpretation of that song's meaning shoved into a movie that didn't understand it, or that it was the vibe the film went for all along that I had simply missed. The lyrics talk about being in love, and how love is often about solace more than it is passion or excitement. The song is long, but best encapsulated by these lines:
Not a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved
Giving credit to Cameron Crowe, I asked the person I was watching it with if I could keep it another night and watch it again, to see if these words elevated the material or highlighted its inadequacy. I am pleased to report that I was wrong, and the song was matched perfectly to a movie which, despite my initial impression, examines the kind of real love described in "Shelter from the Storm." It is a moving elegy to the most comforting notion of love, which is that the right person can make you feel safe, but it never tries to hit us over the head. The victories of love here are small, and feel like the first real such encounters in the lives of these characters. Jerry was never ready for it, consumed with his career, viewing his relationships with women as status symbols. Dorothy was too ready, having a baby when she was young that we get the feeling might have been conceived as a way for her to confirm to herself that she would stay with the baby's father forever. Jerry's been out to lunch (literally), Dorothy's been changing diapers, and neither has gotten any closer to happiness. Watching them change their priorities, and wade through their preconceptions to find each other's real self, is a beautiful and rare sight in movies these days.
The extras on this disc are quite impressive for any release, and especially for this type of character-driven movie. The best is the video commentary with Crowe, Cruise, Zellweger, and Gooding Jr., in which all four sit on couches facing the movie with cameras pointed at them to record their reaction. It's a little creepy—this must be how movie screens feel. But, it's fascinating nonetheless, as you watch the participants smile slightly when they say a line well, or look endearingly at Crowe at the end of a good scene. I don't recall ever seeing actors watch themselves before, and it's worth the eerie voyeuristic feel of it all. If you don't like this, a standard audio version is available on the first disc. Also included are deleted scenes and extended scenes, with optional commentary by Crowe, as well as footage of the rehearsals and the Rod Tidwell commercial. There's also a Bruce Springsteen video, a look at one of the agents who inspired the character of Jerry, the full text of Jerry's mission statement, the script (on DVD-ROM), as well as several other more standard goodies like featurettes. If you like this movie, or Crowe's filmmaking in general, you will appreciate this extensive look.
Cameron Crowe deserves a lot of credit for going back and making the DVDs of his films so good. Like a lot of you I'm sure, I got into DVD for the geek elements of sound and picture quality more than bonus features. Extras seemed cool, but I quickly found out that featurettes were rarely entertaining. Crowe has raised the bar for other director's by putting out excellent special edition DVDs for all of his directorial efforts except Singles (and that disc, unlike most bare-bones ones, at least has some deleted scenes), as well as the first film he wrote, Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Crowe, unlike some filmmakers, seems eager to share what he knows. This seems to stem from Crowe's music background and the notion that art shouldn't belong to the performer. If you talk to the Rolling Stones, they won't typically talk about how great they are. They will sit there all day and describe how they love Chuck Berry or Gram Parsons, and recall what songs and artists they might have ripped off or riffed on over the years to come up with their sound. Any true artist knows that they can't help art by pretending to be a conduit for some supernatural force. Art cannot exist in a vacuum, and so real artists teach, and share, and encourage. They know artists are standing on each other's shoulders to see how high they can take the form, and to stand independent of that would be to violate the form itself. Only hacks horde knowledge. Perhaps Crowe learned this from the great director Billy Wilder, somewhat of a mentor to Crowe. Crowe's book, Conversations with Wilder, deconstructs Wilder's classic films, looking at how they were made from a human point of view. You can be selfish when you're painting alone in your room. In film, it's a collaboration. Crowe shows his understanding of this on his DVDs, and lets it all hang out, his heart on his sleeve, telling little stories about how the movie came about and who did what and what to keep in mind when tackling this sort of thing. If Kevin Smith DVDs make people feel like they could make a movie, Cameron Crowe DVDs make people feel like they could make a good movie. I think in a dozen years you'll hear about writers and directors being inspired by these discs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So it's a little sappy. Go to hell.
Jerry Maguire does what it does with confidence. Where most films might go for "up" moments, or ridiculously tragic realism, Jerry Maguire finds an even balance, presenting a messy, enjoyable take on the beauty and frustrations of real love.
Jerry Maguire is cleared on all felony counts, but is guilty of the misdemeanor of introducing "Show me the money!" into the culture.
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Scales of Justice
• Video Commentary with Director Cameron Crowe, Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger, and Cuba Gooding Jr.
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