Seeing his world - primarily as a sports agent - crumbling around him, Jerry Maguire (Cruise) writes a mission statement during a nervous breakdown pleading for a more humane approach to business. It gets him fired, but he manages to salvage a single client - footballer Rod Tilbrook (Gooding Jr), and and assistant Dorothy Boyd (Zellweger). Jerry is about to learn a lot about life.
If you don't walk out of Jerry Maguire with a goofy grin the size of Alaska plastered across your face, check your pulse - you're probably dead. Director Cameron Crowe has written and directed a deft, funny, shamelessly upbeat romantic comedy and to top it all drawn out the finest performance of Tom Cruise's career.
Jerry (Cruise) is a sports agent on the brink of breakdown. He's rich, successful, and has a sex life that would serve as a dictionary definition of "rampant". Yet he's not happy. He looks around and sees a business plunging towards cynicism; a world where a kid can't ask a sports star to do so much as sign a baseball card without endorsement deals and counter-deals hurtling to the fore. So, in one long lonely night of the soul, he hammers out a "mission statement" demanding a more human approach, delivers it to his colleagues and is summarily given the order of the boot.
With only one desultory client left, Rod Tidwell (played with screwballish energy by Gooding Jnr.), a second rate footballer with a surfeit of energy off the field but precious little on it, Maguire decides to go it alone, failing to persuade any of his colleagues to accompany him apart from lovestruck single parent from accounts Dorothy Boyd (the excellent Zellweger). Things don't run smoothly (natch) for the isolated couple: Maguire is screwed by both ex-colleagues and clients, and although he is attracted enough to his partner and her sprog to smooch, shag and finally wed, the marriage is in trouble within weeks with the outside world's cynicism and Jerry's escalating emotional crisis leaching in and poisoning the familial nest.
That this doesn't degenerate into an experience akin to being hit full in the face by the Tate & Lyle express is a testament both to Crowe's (director of Say Anything and Singles) script and direction plus a new maturity and confidence in Cruise's performance. Crowe takes a dessicated and predictable genre and invests it with a delightfully off-beam sensibility. Scenes never go quite as you expect. Take the opening montage in which a boxer-shorted Cruise narrates his plunge into pathological pessimism while simultaneously undercutting the schmaltz by admitting that this is all a bit "touchy-feely".
And then there's Cruise himself, who possibly for the first time in his career requires no defence. Not satisfied to deliver the kind of by-the-numbers winsome romantic lead that a few years ago he'd probably have been satisfied with, here he fleshes Jerry's struggle with a developing disgust for the world to the point where it's finally possible to forget that this was the man who made Cocktail and Days Of Thunder.
Added to the souffle are sterling supporting performances from Bonnie Hunt as Dorothy's concerned, cynical sister, plus a tousle-haired kid (Jonathan Lipnicki) who'll have anyone leaning towards broodiness, repapering the box-room and spending a fortune down Mothercare.
Jerry Maguire is that rare beast; a movie that reminds you why you like movies in the first place. Be nice to yourself. Go see.