Jerry Maguire – Time Out NY

Crowe’s Feat

The golden boy of writer-directors comes of age with Jerry Maguire

There is a moment in Jerry Maguire that captures the skittish early ’90s the way Risky Business caught the plush ’80s. Tom Cruise is a shark-grinned sports agent who has been fired from a top agency and is desperately trying to hold on to his last paying client. The client demands he yell “Show me the money” to prove he wants the job. Alone in his glass-walled office – his humiliation visible to all – Cruise bellows the line louder and louder, the veins in his neck bulging against his shirt collar.

Has Cameron Crowe ever had such a moment in Hollywood? “Hundreds!” cries the writer-director. “I humiliate myself every day!”

He’s only half-kidding. “As a writer, you have a long line of people doctoring and neutering your work. They say things like, ‘I don’t know, that sounds a bit anachronistic,’ or ‘Don’t you realize so-and-so wrote this better 30 years ago?’ It’s tough.”

Somehow, I thought Crowe had escaped all that. For a long time, he was a golden boy; every few years, there would be an announcement in the newspapers of his latest triumph. At 15, he was a contributor to Penthouse and Creem; at 16, a staff writer at Rolling Stone; at 22, the author of the best-selling Fast Times at Ridgemont High; at 32, writer-director of Say Anything (nice reviews); at 35, Singles (also good reviews).

His tone was light and easy, the glow of California in his pen. And over the phone from an L.A. sound studio, Crowe is modest and funny and perfectly all-American. But now he is on the cusp of 40, and with his new film about the rise and fall of a young American, cynicism and doubt have arrived in force.

In the film, Jerry suggests that his agency seek fewer clients and provide better service. After this earns him a pink slip, he and his wide-receiver client (Cuba Gooding Jr.) battle back from obscurity to reclaim their respective passions for life – and to win Gooding a fat NFL contract. At times, football seems a substitute for Hollywood and Jerry a doppelganger for Crowe, a romantic in a very unromantic business.

The director denies that “Jerry, c’est moi,” but admits he had his mind on larger questions. “Sports is a stand-in for the world, really,” he says. “I just thought it represented a pure, super-cynical pursuit of the dollar. To find humanity in that arena would be a task.”

Crowe is known for his ear for teenage patois and for his goofy young lovers. But Jerry cannot be saved by a woman alone; instead he ends up in a troubled relationship with a naïf and her child. “I just thought it would be interesting to have Jerry, in this moment when he desperately needs something in his life, not fall into a typical Hollywood romance, but into having a family,” explains Crowe.

When he went looking for an actor to play his aging hero, he found Cruise in a similar, slightly jaded mood. “When I first spoke to him about the script, Tom said, ‘It reminds me of Risky Business and Rain Man. You know when I was still playing characters?’ And I was like, ‘Let’s go back to that! Because I love those movies.”

Renee Zellweger, who plays the naïf, will probably always be known as a “Cameron Crowe Discovery.” The director says her reading reminded him of someone. “No one else caught the young Shirley MacLaine – and that is the guiding spirit for the character.” Cruise noticed her, too. In the video of Zellweger’s audition, says Crowe, “you can see Tom’s head turn like, ‘Who’s this Texas tornado who just walked in?'”

Once he was in the role, Cruise blended into the agency scene with scary precision. “Some sports agents visited the set one day, and I have a picture of Tom with them. And you cannot tell them apart. They all look like ’70s Buicks, with grilles of shiny teeth, hair slicked back, built for speed.”

Now that he has left youth behind, Crowe is getting a different kind of response from early audiences. “This guy came up to me after a screening and said, ‘You know, I put on a suit and tie every day, and I walk through airports on the way to a million business meetings. And I never thought I’d see a movie about how that felt.’ I liked that.”

But what about the one immortal teen archetype that Crowe created in his twenties: Fast Times’ Jeff Spicoli. Where is he now?

“The last time I saw the guy Spicoli was based on was before the book came out. Jeff – his first name was really Jeff – came up to my friends and I and said, ‘I know of this party where there’s a bottle of Jack Daniel’s sitting on the bar. Wanna go? We said, no, and he just walked away.”

Spicoli, man, phone home. Your creator – and your generation – is moving on.

Courtesy of Time Out New York – Stephen Talty – December 12, 1996