Cameron Crowe is one of those directors who people just love. He’s made some stinkers along with with his good movies though, so when people talk to you about how much they love Cameron Crowe, generally what they mean is that they loved Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. Or maybe even Say Anything, if they’re old school. Generally speaking, however, Jerry Maguire is Crowe’s big hit. This Tom Cruise-starring tale of a sports agent who experiences a moral epiphany got great reviews, became part of the pop culture lexicon of the late ’90s, and made about five times as much as Crowe’s next best loved film…give or take a bunch of millions or so. To call it a success would be putting things lightly.
Gore Verbinski is another director who’s amassed a pretty loyal following, despite having made a couple of stinkers. When people say that they like his movies, generally they mean that they’re into the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie or Rango, or maybe they might even mean Mouse Hunt, if they’re the hip sort who likes to go back to the deep cuts. Certainly they very rarely mean that they like his strange followup to his runaway Pirates success, 2005’s Nicolas Cage-starring The Weather Man. It got mixed-to-scathing reviews, didn’t make a blip on the pop culture radar, and brought in pretty much zero money. Which is weird because—oh, my God—it’s basically the best movie ever.
What do they have in common?
These are crisis movies. They feature main characters who are successful in their careers, but who find no fulfillment in what they do. Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire makes his living turning human beings into commodities, but he eventually comes to believe that there has to be a better, more human way to manage the careers of athletes. Nic Cage’s David Spritz reports the weather on TV, but he doesn’t predict it. He’s not a scientist or anything, he’s more of a clown. And like they do to most clowns, people have started throwing pies at him. Spritz is searching for a way to get through this rotten world and still keep his dignity, do right by his loved ones, and not live life as a doormat. Maguire and Spritz have crises of faith, they travel off in a different direction than the one they’ve been going in, and eventually they reach a cathartic resolution.
Why is Jerry Maguire overrated?
First off, it’s time to address the notion that Cameron Crowe is good at creating movie soundtracks. He has good taste in music, of course, but the way he uses popular music in his movies is often intrusive and distracting. Rarely does he display an understanding of how to score a scene with a popular song in order to elevate it. Why is The Who’s “Gettin’ in Tune” played over the opening of this film, in conjunction with Tom Cruise’s narration, thus creating a confusing mess of noise? Why does Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” start abruptly, in the middle of the song, over the film’s closing scenes? Because its lyrics loosely relate to the characters’ situations? Its queue is jarring and abrasive. Many of Crowe’s contemporaries, like Quentin Tarantino, P.T. Anderson, or Wes Anderson, have a good understanding of how popular music can color a film, but Crowe seems to just shoehorn in song after song, forcing his taste on the audience, and it’s not nearly as effective. This is something that plagues all of his movies though, so let’s get more specific to Jerry Maguire.
The bulk of this movie rests on Cruise’s shoulders, as he’s the star and he shows up in nearly every scene. The problem with that is, this isn’t the strongest Tom Cruise performance. Often he gets accused of relying on his star power and grinning his way through performances, and while that’s generally unfair, what he does here is an unfortunate case of it being true. He’s running purely on the charisma fumes left in his gas tank, grinning ear to ear every second that he’s on screen, and often overacting. Just look at the “Help me, help you,” scene for proof of that. And just look at his performance in Magnolia for an example of him playing a similar character who gets by on charisma, and being at the same time more believable and more raw while doing so. Tom Cruise at the top of his game could have helped elevate this film, but Crowe isn’t able to pull his best stuff out of him.
But the biggest problem with Jerry Maguire is that its romance angle just doesn’t work. You never believe that Maguire’s fast-talking, slut-banging sports agent character could fall for the idea of living with Renee Zellweger and her goofy little son, to the point where the movie even has to acknowledge the fact. Even after the big speech that Cruise gives at the climax, you still don’t think that his commitment to settling for a boring life is going to last. And really, what did this movie gain by going romantic? It would have been fine being a story about Maguire and his platonic business partner setting off on a new business venture, and the only thing it introduces to the mix by turning into a love story is cliché and melodrama.
Why is The Weather Man underpraised?
The biggest reason to hold The Weather Man up as being something special is that Nicolas Cage is doing real work here. How many times have we seen this guy actually act over the last decade? We’ve gotten so used to watching him cash checks that his trying for real feels like an anomaly. Well, he’s subtle and vulnerable here, and his efforts were virtually ignored. And not only is he putting in a good performance, he gets to share scenes with Michael Caine, too. At first you think that Nic Cage explaining to Michael Caine what a Wendy’s Frosty is must be the best idea for a movie scene ever, but then you get a scene where Michael Caine explains to Nic Cage what a camel toe is and you realize you were wrong. The acting in this movie is incredible, and the material the actors are dealing with is so strange that it can’t help but be fascinating to take in how they handle it.
That’s one of the film’s regular criticisms too—its strangeness. It gets called “a mess,” critics say that it’s “interesting,” but that it ultimately fails to come together as a whole. That’s just bull. The Weather Man is a little off-putting due to how real it is, sure, bit it’s not a mess. The dialogue here is so bluntly filthy, and so refreshingly how people really talk that it doesn’t feel like a typical movie, but the path it takes from the introduction of its conflict (the Frosty) to the resolution of all the chaos (SpongeBob) takes a pretty linear path and couldn’t be more effective.
Cage’s character experiences small, hard-fought changes, not the movie-magic epiphanies that Jerry Maguire goes through. The Weather Man is a meditation on suffering, a counseling experience for anyone who has ever felt like the world has singled them out for punishment, and it makes all of its points without ever falling into the trap of being clichéd or getting preachy. It goes as far as to include Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock’ on its soundtrack, completely dismisses it as schlocky nonsense, and then builds an emotionally resonant moment over it as it fades into the background anyway. That’s like the opposite of what Cameron Crowe does.
Evening the odds.
“Show me the Money!” “You had me at hello.” Jerry Maguire was certainly a catchphrase machine. That thing about the human head weighing eight pounds even got some play. That’s great and all, but being a catchphrase generator from the mid-’90s basically makes you Urkel. Watching Family Matters every Friday night was something people enjoyed once upon a time, but to do so today would be a little silly. Similarly, giving Jerry Maguire a re-watch these days leaves you scratching your head and wondering what all the fuss was about back in the day.
Not so for The Weather Man, though. Given this past year’s obsession with featuring archery in movies, Nic Cage’s learning of calm and focus through his practice with a bow here feels fresher than ever. And people love to talk about camel toes these days. Put this thing back out in theaters again somewhere around the time people are salivating for the next Hunger Games movie and it might actually have a chance to find an audience. And wouldn’t that be nice.
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