6 Major Problems With Jerry Maguire

Photo: Courtesy of Tristar Pictures.
We all have a list of movies we pretend to have seen — books we're too embarrassed to admit we haven't read. The widely loved 1996 romantic dramedy Jerry Maguire was on mine until recently, when I decided to fix that blind spot in my pop culture perspective.
I'm not going to say I "wasted" two hours and 19 minutes of my life, because there's a lot to love about the iconic film. As Jerry's love interest Dorothy, then-newcomer Renee Zellweger does a fine job going toe-to-toe with Hollywood heavyweight Tom Cruise in her breakout performance. As with all of Cameron Crowe's movies, the soundtrack is awesome. Cuba Gooding Jr. earned every ounce of that Oscar for his supporting role as braggadocious football player Rod Tidwell — stealing every scene he's in. And I'll be damned if Dorothy's bespectacled tyke Ray isn't the cutest fucking kid I've ever seen.
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But there's a lot to criticize about the movie too, much of which hasn't been said because back in '96 there wasn't a world wide web populated with a diversity of critics — including opinionated, mildly cynical feminists like myself (the vast majority of the movie's glowing reviews were penned by middle-aged white men working at newspapers). And what better way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a beloved classic than by pointing out everything wrong with it? I'm half-kidding. The idea isn't to bump Jerry Maguire from anyone's list of favorites; I just think it's high time we reexamined a movie we've heaped praise on pretty generously for two decades now. So in that spirit, here are the six problems I have with Jerry Maguire.
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Photo: Courtesy of Tristar Pictures.
Jerry's "Slutty" Fiancée

Early on, Dorothy observes that Jerry's fiancée Avery (Kelly Preston) must be "one classy babe." The movie abruptly cuts to Jerry and Avery having loud, passionate sex against a bookcase, a juxtaposition that is supposed to humorously say, "Look how un-classy this broad is."

Avery enjoying fucking her fiancé is supposed to demonize her in our eyes? No. That kind of lazily sexist technique is more one-dimensional slut-shaming than character-developing. Plus, the fact that she's clearly supposed to be a foil to the impossibly innocent Dorothy creates a problematic virgin-whore dynamic.
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Photo: Courtesy of Tristar Pictures.
The Bitter Group of Divorcées

This support group of woman who've separated from their husbands collectively believes "men are the enemy," as Dorothy puts it. They're portrayed in an unflattering, over-simplified light as men-hating spinsters and unlovable feminists. Come on, man. (Plus, the scenes involving them weren't anywhere near funny enough to forgive that kind of stereotyping.)
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Photo: Courtesy of Tristar Pictures.
Dorothy Is A Sad Character

Zellweger is so lovely in this role, but the way her character is written is one-dimensional and even a little bit tragic. It seems like Dorothy is essentially there to fawn over Jerry and show him what love is; to that end, she is portrayed as weak, incredibly naive, and lacking self-respect.

First, the young single mom gives up everything for Jerry, including a stable job and benefits. She dedicates herself to their company and relationship. But when the company isn’t panning out and Dorothy decides to move away to find work, Jerry proposes on the spot to make her stay. Then after they tie the knot, Jerry acts like an asshole and goes on the road as much as possible to avoid his intimacy issues; Dorothy blames herself, of course.

When Jerry finally realizes he "needs" Dorothy, he comes back and apologizes. This scene sprang the classic “You had me at hello” line, so that’s nice. (More on that in a minute.) My point is, Dorothy’s just a little too quick to forgive a guy who has acted like a selfish ass.
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Photo: Courtesy of Tristar Pictures.
The Ending Is Terrible

So Jerry starts out as a superficial jerk and is supposed to be this profoundly changed man by the end, right? But we never actually see any meaningful character evolution. In his manifesto, Jerry laments his "place in the world" — but how is his place in the world any different when we leave him? The happy ending is brought about when Jerry starts being the husband he said he'd be and when his client, Tidwell, scores an $11 million contract.

So Jerry's transformation can be summed up as thus: He goes from being a rich, engaged corporate asshole to a richer, married, self-employed asshole. That’s truly the American dream, eh?
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Photo: Courtesy of Tristar Pictures.
Rod Doesn’t Learn A Damn Thing Either

The other major issue with the ending is that Tidwell, god love him, doesn’t appear to have learned anything either. Remember when Jerry was all, “Play from your heart, not for the paycheck?” So…is getting knocked unconscious for several minutes before waking up and doing touchdown dance for the fans supposed to be Rod “playing from his heart”? His character hasn't changed at all (besides being less of a jerk to the press), but he's rewarded with a fat signing deal by the movie's end. Go Rod?
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Photo: Courtesy of Tristar Pictures.
“You Complete Me” Is Actually Ugh

Hearing the iconic quote in context, I actually found it a little sickening — and I don’t mean sickeningly sweet. Poor Jerry can't enjoy his great, winning night by himself, so he goes and finds Dorothy to apologize. And while the line sounds like a sweet sentiment to Dorothy, it's still all about Jerry and what’s good for Jerry; she completes him. It’s actually an admission of Dorothy being an ancillary person in Jerry’s life — a means to an end (Jerry’s completion as a person).
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