I was doomed to be disappointed by Jerry Maguire (1996). Possibly one of the most over-hyped films on my list, it features two stunning, if poorly written leads (Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger), a deliriously cute, if misused, child actor (Jonathan Lipnicki), and one of the most poorly written scripts I’ve seen thus far. While the acting is perfectly adequate, if at times really quite good, the material they’re given to work with is utter crap. The romantic plot is tragically flawed, the female characters are as shallow as a kiddy pool, and the chemistry between at least 50% of the cast is disjointed at best.
I don’t like the love story. Zellweger’s Dorothy Boyd is a terribly written female character – she’s possibly every female stereotype rolled into one little ball. And I hate her for it. She’s young, naïve, stupid, supremely gullible, and entirely dependent on others for validation.
She professes her love for Maguire immediately after sleeping with him, in such a clichéd moment – reinforcing the ever-present stereotype that all women get attached immediately after sex.
She behaves in a manner that most single mothers would be appalled by, and not because Crowe was trying to renegotiate the single mother stereotype – I honestly think it’s because he has such a skewed interpretation of women, hence writing them terribly.
I don’t believe for one second that a single 26-year-old mother would simply bring a new man into her home on a first date, and jump in the sack. It’s reckless in a manner that Dorothy is not written to embody. She’s portrayed as sensitive, emotional, and calculating in her personal and private life. Yet when it comes to the prospect of sex, she’s portrayed as being so hard-up that her consideration for her son goes flying out the window the second he literally rips the straps from her dress. Bringing a man into the house just does not fit. Granted, women have needs – this is obvious, and made clear of the character. Go to his place. Get a motel. Fuck, do it in a parking lot somewhere. But to bring him into her bed implies a level of carelessness that surprised me.
I hardly believed Zellweger as a mother – the carelessness of bringing Maguire home for the night didn’t help matters. I hardly believed her as anything save for a stupid, silly little girl who remained shockingly naïve in spite of the hardship she’d clearly already endured by being an exceptionally young mother, even for the time.
I was constantly annoyed by her inability to take her sister, Laurel’s (Bonnie Hunt), advice. Furthermore, I was irritated at Laurel’s inability to stick to her guns, when she was given the groundwork for being one tough, badass broad! What happened?! She begins by laying on the tough love of an older sister, and I’m cheering her on. “Listen to your sister! Atta girl! She’s got your back!” And then, what happens? The moment sex is involved with this stunning Adonis of a man, Laurel degrades into this irritating stereotype of a woman – substantial advice about to be given, but then “I just wanted the juicy details” and that’s the end of discussion.
The flippancy with which Crowe has written his female characters is insulting, and irritating. Yes “you had me at hello” is a lovely line, when considered out of context. When you consider it in context, it’s atrocious.
Maguire marries Dorothy because he’s too afraid to be alone; he has an inexplicable love for her son, but no real feelings for her besides a burning sensation in his loins – one that doesn’t require topical ointment. Dorothy realizes this heartbreaking fact, much too late, and actually does something about it. Besides blindly leaving the company (a bold if rash and dramatic decision), this is one of the scarce proactive moves she has in the entire film.
And then he shows up after seeing how in love Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is with his wife, feeling pangs of loneliness, and deciding “I can pretend I have that with her!” He regurgitates lines from the beginning of the film, a moment in which he saw her girlishly swoon over one of the most nauseatingly PDA-comfortable couples in history, and barely apologizes for being so transparently disinterested in her. And what does she do? She excuses his behavior by saying “you had me at hello.” That the moment he made the strenuous effort of walking through the front door, she forgave and forgot.
WHO DOES THAT?!
I know this goes against everything any woman I’ve ever known has said about this film. Hell, my own father swoons over this movie. But I’m not buying it. I don’t even buy Tidwell’s relationship with his wife – it’s unrealistic. But their chemistry is golden. The scene on the field when Tidwell gets knocked out had me in tears – it’s the only one. The chemistry between Cruise, Gooding Jr., and Regina King in that moment was perfection. Gooding Jr. was stupendous in his role, and, in spite of being another poorly written female character to add to Crowe’s roster, King is such a joy to watch. A living, breathing stereotype of a modern Black woman, but it’s not laid on so thick that it’s terribly problematic – only slightly.
The more I think about it, the less I understand Crowe. I have no fucking clue how he pulled Almost Famous (2000) out of his ass – it’s the only gem he has. Sure, Say Anything (1989) has its moments of shining glory, but it’s no masterpiece.
He did the exact opposite for neurotic male leads as Woody Allen – he made them insufferable, self-flagellating bores who have nothing to be neurotic about. Maybe that’s why Patrick Fugit’s William Miller and Billy Crudup’s Russell Hammond were such successes. Miller is a legitimately awkward teenager who looks like he’s barely hit puberty, and Hammond is a narcissist with a God complex, and far too much praise without enough criticism.
Maguire is a gorgeous looking man (men would kill to look like him, don’t EVEN lie), with a quick wit, excellent sales pitch, and piles of wealth – sure that all gets taken away from him, but in the instant that it wavers he becomes a fucking martyr. You don’t believe him to be flawed because he looks too perfect. Maybe casting was the problem – like Robert Redford for The Graduate (1967) before Hoffman was finally signed on. He’s too beautiful and doesn’t seem believable as an emotional wreck. And he isn’t. Which makes the film frustrating.
Ray Boyd (Lipnicki) is little more than an anecdote. He’s one of the most believable performances in the entire film, and he’s used as a fucking plot device, and nothing else. He isn’t even successfully used as a plot device – most of the time it feels like he doesn’t even exist to Zellweger except for those convenient moments where she can dramatically proclaim “he’s my life!” and tell her sob story of being a young single mother. His role as son is unbelievable, as his pseudo-mother has virtually no chemistry with him. I’d believe her more as the nanny than the mother.
You’ve got all these people claiming to have her back, threatening with the ubiquitous “if you hurt her I’ll kill you”, and then when he does, there’s no follow through. What the fuck, guys? Where’s the bludgeoning you promised?
He clearly hurts her, and screws up every step of the way, and instead of reprimanding him, he gets a pat on the back. And as soon as he comes back to her with that heartfelt, spoonfed, clichéd fucking line of “you complete me” – which is so clearly the farthest possible thing from the truth – he’s absolved of all his assholery.
He has a moment of soul-crushing loneliness when he realizes how significant true love can be in someone’s life. And since he’s already married, can’t stand being alone, and divorce is one expense he can’t afford right now, he takes two seconds to spout a spoon-fed line about love and he’s welcomed back into the fold with loving arms? He’s not sorry, he’s just envious of someone else’s life and is too fucked up to deal with his shit like everyone else has to. But that’s because he’s a character in a Cameron Crowe film – they never have to deal with their shit. The fantasy realm of film will make it easy to ignore.
And therein lies my frustration with Cameron Crowe – he glorifies men, and makes them into sad, whiny, irritating martyrs, and makes women into some weird, twisted fantasy. They’re never real, flushed out, flesh and blood beings. They’re holograms.
Again, I still can’t make heads or tails out of why Almost Famous was such a success – the men are still neurotic, and the women are disasters, but somehow in a more realistic way.
Here they are the worst possible representations of their genders – flawed in the least human way imaginable.
This post was originally published on my tumblr on July 2, 2012.