Let’s give it up for the good guys capable of keeping their heads above water in the ugliness of the corporate rat race. If everyone had a dollar for each time a decent person got lost in the hustle that is corporate life, we’d all be rich by now.
Jerry Maguire of the eponymous film is a big time sports agent, negotiating multi-million dollar contracts for athletes. And – just like in other money-making corporate careers – his soul is disintegrated, leaving just a rotting cavity in that dark space behind his sternum. So much so that – on a whim following a cold-sweat panic attack – he changes his business regimen entirely, boggling his colleagues with his newfound good-guy positivity, getting himself fired. Jerry goes out on his own grappling on to the only client who hasn’t left him, holding his breath through the ugliness that entails the corporate rat race, and ultimately finding peace in his situation.
This client who sticks with him is Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.): petulant and loutish, testing Jerry’s calm negotiations man persona. Nevermind Rod’s personality; Jerry doesn’t have a choice. Broke and job-less, Jerry is mirthless but charges through what he feels is left of his career. Thank goodness for underling Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellwegger), who followed him after his cringe-worthy and bravado’d public breakdown of a “farewell, I’m fired” speech. Dorothy is loyal and pure-hearted, believing in Jerry’s speech despite their coworkers’ helpless resistance. Work can be a nasty place chock-full of forced ass-kissing; finding the honest and kind yet intelligent are bona fide gems.
In all of its ethereal lighted 90s glory, Jerry Maguire is another one of those gems. The story is straightforward: no twisty endings or catches here. Just a palpable emotion to which working viewers can relate. We all would love to indulge in the pastime of directionless complaining about workplace politics, don’t we? Real life doesn’t exactly allow for it, though; it’s an unspoken rule amongst the dutiful 9 to 5’ers to accept the quid pro quo of professional favors even if it’s at the fruition of nasty alliance-making.
Which is why Jerry Maguire means more these days than it might have when it opened in box offices in 1996. Cinema was still young enough to tell honest stories with happy endings; it had another decade or so left to go before we decided they were too corny and that we must churn out jaded, disaffected, mumblecore slice-of-life stories instead. Feel-good situations may not be real life, but neither is cinema itself. Isn’t that why we love it? With Jerry Maguire, we revisit the idea of connection to a story while having the ending that saturates us at our idealistic cores.
Written by Dara Kim