“Show me the money!”
“Help me help you.”
“You complete me.”
“You had me at hello.”
Do you know these quotes? Of course you do. They’re classics.
But do you know what’s so special about these four? They all come from the same film. If movies were judged purely on their quotability, Jerry Maguire (1996) would be considered one of the greatest of all time. I still think it should be, but apparently, that’s a bit of a stretch for some people.
In case it wasn’t clear, I adore Jerry Maguire. I’ve never really thought about why exactly I feel this way, beyond the fact that watching it feels like receiving a warm hug. After I decided to write this article, I realized I had many compelling reasons for loving this film and I just couldn’t stop typing until I had them all down.
The moment reminded me of the scene when Jerry (Tom Cruise), a shallow big-time sports agent, has an epiphany in the middle of the night (though mine struck while I was zoning out in Macro) about the cutthroat, unethical nature of the sports management business. Dripping in sweat, he hops on his chunky ‘90s laptop and word-vomits a 25-page mission statement that calls for his company to return to its roots. He urges them to remember their job of caring for the health and safety of their clients, rather than treating them like walking paychecks and squeezing out every last cent from their athletic careers.
Jerry’s moral revelation promptly gets him fired after he puts copies of the statement in all of his coworkers’ mailboxes. Desperate and a little unhinged, he takes his one client who didn’t dump him, Arizona Cardinals Wide Receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.—in a role that deservedly won him an Oscar), and his one loyal co-worker, awkward single mother Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger), and announces his ludicrous plan to start his own company—the right way.
Tom Cruise, fresh off of the first Mission: Impossible (1996) movie and at the peak of his stardom before his Scientology-related PR nightmares, is perfect as a slick people pleaser whose ex-girlfriends describe as, “great at friendship, bad at intimacy.” Cruise doesn’t often do rom-coms—probably because, like Jerry, he seems a little too polished to convincingly play someone with much emotional depth.
The only force that could break through the few cracks in Cruise’s rigid million-dollar smile is the heartwarming optimism that Zellweger brings to Dorothy. Dorothy derails her whole life for Jerry, certainly not because of his shaky business plan but because of the genuine dignity he put into his mission statement. It’s no surprise that her professional loyalty translates to an outside-the-office romance with Jerry that sparks, fizzles out, then sparks again.
The craft of writer and director Cameron Crowe’s script goes beyond the lines that have remained pop culture staples for twenty years. He created a story with an unlikely trio in Jerry, Dorothy, and Rod, whose various subplots steer each of them toward what is best for all of them. When Rod becomes more concerned with getting high-paying endorsements than with actually playing football, Jerry is there to remind him that his career has no meaning if he doesn’t play with heart.
When Dorothy senses that Jerry can’t fully commit to their relationship, despite Jerry’s obvious bond with her young son Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki—quite possibly the cutest kid in cinematic history), she breaks up with the man of her dreams to let them both get a fair shot at happiness. When Jerry hears Rod’s demand to show him the money, he understands that what Rod is really asking for is love. Jerry has to care about Rod sincerely to help him achieve anything, just like he has to truly be present in his relationship with Dorothy for it to work. At the film’s end, Rod finally succeeds on the field but Jerry realizes he can’t savor the moment without sharing it with Dorothy.
Rod’s success is their crazy little company’s success, and Jerry races to try to win back the woman who helped him build it in what is an immensely satisfying sequence chock full of Bruce Springsteen songs, slow-motion running through airports (it is a Tom Cruise movie, after all), and a teary-eyed professions of love in a living room in the middle of a divorced women’s support group.
I love Jerry Maguire because it’s bursting with heart. It’s about finding the people who complete you. It’s about not selling out whether in your career, in your relationships, or in yourself. It’s a universally appealing story (I dare you to find one person who can’t find at least one thing they enjoy in a romantic comedy-drama sports film) that is simply about doing what’s right. Some may say it’s just a schmaltzy cheesefest, but I think it’s a modern classic that gets better every time you watch it. Show me the love!