Tag Archives: sports movies

Men in Suits in the 90s aka Jerry Maguire 26 years later

I should be going to sleep.  I’ve already brushed my teeth.  If I read for fifteen or twenty minutes, my eyelids will grow heavy.  Am I going to bed now?  No, because Jerry Maguire (Cameron Crowe, 1996) is on Turner Classic Movies at half-past midnight as part of its annual 31 Days of Oscar programming event.


In Ben Mankiewicz‘s intro to the film, he mentions the lines of dialogue that became infinitely quotable:

You had me at hello.”
“You complete me.”
Help me, help you.”
“Show me the money.”

“That’s more than a dress, that’s an Audrey Hepburn movie.”
“Don’t cry at the beginning of a date. Cry at the end like I do.”

I was expecting Ben to mention the one about “the human head weighs eight pounds,” but he didn’t.


I watched Jerry Maguire a few times when I was writing my master’s thesis many years ago.  There are many narrative and mise-en-scene elements that faded from memory but for some reason, I remember disliking Kelly Preston‘s character.  This TCM-faciliated rewatch has allowed me to appreciate her intense performance, especially in the scene where Jerry (Tom Cruise) dumps her.

Other observations that I hadn’t perceived before or forgot about:
~ Jonathan Lipnicki was so cute!

~ What was it about men in suits in the 90s that was distinctively 90s?  Was it all the earth tones?

~ Check out these cell phones! Within five years of the film’s release, most mobiles would come with cameras.

~ Renee Zellwegger was really good in this film.  The way she looks at Tom Cruise in that scene at baggage claim, you can tell she’s already in love with him.

~ The characters in this film utilize every communication tool available to them (except for email and web-based instant messengers): landlines, cell phones, pay phones, fax machines.

I looked through my notes and thesis because I wanted to remember how I interpreted it.  I included it in my analysis of professional football films.  Quoting myself here:

In addition to the meta-textual components of professional football as a business, Jerry Maguire argues that friends and family are integral aspects of an athlete’s support system and depicts the collision of business life with private life (or lack thereof).  It is peculiar that in the entire film, there is not one shot or scene showing an actual touchdown being made, which suggests that at the professional level, the priorities and definition of victory for the players rest primarily in other facets of their world such as commercial viability, contracts, and avoiding injury as much as possible.

Jerry Maguire is a genre-hybrid comprised of a football movie on one hand and a romantic comedy on the other.  Tom Cruise plays the title character, a sports agent who undergoes a philosophical revelation that compels him to quit his job and retain only one client, wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), [and] connects the football narrative with the romantic comedy.  Although Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellwegger) works for the same sports agency as Jerry, she never appears alone with the key players of the football world.  When she is in the same scene or on screen at the same time as Rod, it only occurs when Jerry is there, when Rod wears normal clothes that do not signify his football player identity, and when his wife Marcee Tidwell (Regina King) is also present in the same scene.  Avery Bishop (Kelly Preston), Maguire’s fiancée, however, is seen in the company of other sports professionals because she works in the industry.  Jerry dumps her because they cannot be together if he is to have his redemption…

What is particularly striking about the parallel storylines is that Dorothy might work in the NFL in a meta-textual industry sense, she might work in the same company as Maguire (and then follow him when he starts his own company), but she is not in the football movie portion of Jerry Maguire.  Dorothy occupies a familial space that is generically tied to the romantic comedy.  Throughout the majority of the film, whenever she and Jerry are in a scene together, they are rarely in the same frame.  In their first two scenes together, they are not in the same shot until there is something that can serve as an intermediary—Dorothy’s son Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki), (airport baggage claim), and the goldfish (Jerry takes from the agency).  In the third scene they have together, where Dorothy drives Jerry to the airport, they are in the same frame; Ray also happens to be sitting in the back seat.

Oh yeah, remember that Bruce Springsteen song from the film?

Pix creds: IMDB

Love & Basketball — The Criterion Edition

The Criterion Edition of Love & Basketball (Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2000) came out last year, and though I’ve had the DVD within spitting distance for a few months, I didn’t really feel like watching it until tonight.


I really liked this film the first time I watched it and I like it just as much now.  My previous analysis still holds and for this viewing, I have a few additional musings:

~ I forgot Alfre Woodard plays Sanaa Lathan‘s mom.
~ Monica (Lathan) and Quincy’s (Omar Epps) friendship is borne out of humility, friendly competition, and strong opinions.
~ Sanaa Lathan is so good.  She’s incredible at conveying discomfort around others and self-disappointment.
~ The film delves into many layers and does so very well: dynamics between friends, parents and kids, dealing with insecurity, and rivalry.
~ Why would Quincy treat Monica that way?  Is it because he’s afraid to let her down where it truly matters so he’d rather she hated him for being a jerk or short-sighted than for anything resembling vulnerability?  Or did he perceive her priority, her reasonable priority of basketball over him as abandonment?  He wouldn’t walk her back to her dorm, is he justified in being so upset (or could they both have come up with a better solution in the moment)?
~ I completely forgot Tyra Banks was in this movie.
~ I don’t remember getting teary-eyed in that scene in the kitchen between Monica and her mom…the one where they talk about basketball and the spring dance.
~ Would a person who doesn’t like sports movies or basketball enjoy the non-sports components of Love & Basketball?  I doubt it.  Although the film deftly explores Monica and Quincy as people, but mostly Monica, basketball is so integral to the themes and storyline that if you actively dislike the depiction of game-play or conversations about being an athlete, then maybe you could still have a good time if you’re die-hard fans of Sanaa Lathan, Omar Epps, or want to watch a movie directed by a woman and in which there are zero cell phones.

What I learned from the making-of featurette:
~ The director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, was a shy child but playing basketball gave her an outlet to be more confident.  Her parents encouraged her and her sister to play sports.  She also always liked writing and telling stories; becoming a filmmaker made sense.
~ The Sundance Labs liked the script for the film and then invited Gina to do the director’s lab.
~ Sanaa Lathan did not give the director the best first impression…but nailed it in the reading to a full audience.  Apparently, people with theatre training do a “reading” for more mechanical reasons, unlike someone with a film/TV background who would put much more heart into it.  Hence, the initial not-great impression.
~ Omar Epps had played athletic characters four times before Love & Basketball, so he was apprehensive about being in this film at first, but he loved the script.
~ The director wanted to cast a ball-player who could act but kept Sanaa “on hold” because her auditions were so good.  She was given a trainer to help her become a basketball player in more than athletic abilities.  Colleen Matsuhara was the basketball advisor.  It took about four or five months of Gina trying to finalize casting before Sanaa got the part.  She realized that her movie was about love first and then basketball second.  After all, “you can fake a jump shot, you can’t fake a close-up.”
~ The WNBA did not exist when the director started writing the film.  By the time she was in production, there was a WNBA.

If you like this movie and haven’t gotten your hands on the Criterion version, do it, and watch all the special features.

How did I not pay attention to the music in this movie before?  Je ne sais pas.

Pic creds: Criterion Collection

The Football sequences should be stellar

Or at least consistent with the televised game aesthetic since the directors have much experience operating cameras for televised sports.  I didn’t know about this film until I came across this Military.com article.

American Underdog (Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, 2021) chronicles how Kurt Warner became a football star in his late twenties.  Based solely on appearances, Zachary Levi is a good choice.  Oui?


Will I be watching this film?  Je ne pense pas.  The trailer watches like it’s the whole film.

Pic cred: IMDB

The Ho Hit Me First

When I was in grad school and had to give a presentation in my Feminism & Popculture seminar, I chose to discuss Girlfight (Karyn Kusama, 2000).


I looked through my notes from that class and could only find a poem I wrote about the boxing film.  It could probably be performed as a spoken word piece:

Traipsing Around in a Male-Centered Arena

What do you do
with a girl like me
neither tomboy, nor girlie girl
at the cusp of your 21st Century
I’m just angry
I don’t take any shit
I’ll call you on your stupidity


Where do I go?
a girl like me
neither geek, nor artist
not a hippy punk, but still anti-authority
I haven’t stolen,
I’m not in a gang
So spare me that lecture
on finding me some structure—
I know how to cooperate,
I just don’t


Choose to
Or want to

Can’t I just punch
you in the Bronx


switch places with my little bro
the aspiring painter,
the collegiate
whereas I,
I wanna box


It really is my idea

That’s where I go
inside a ring
my chin down, eyebrows scrunched
can I get some recognition?


I still haven’t stolen anything
I’m still not in a gang
Have I been fightin anyone at school lately?

I could do PE class all day


Hit me with your best shot
I can handle this love subplot
I’m not going down for this,
I might rage the bull
But this isn’t Body and Soul


This girlfight has no Master Plot
It’s about standing up
To the man that drove
My mother to suicide

But before I get carried away

Step back from that ledge
Victory isn’t that rewarding
It can’t be
This is about me


And where you gonna put
a girl like me
neither tomboy, nor girlie girl
I came before Pink
and I’m no Gabrielle Reece

So look at me
Get acquainted with every grimace
Get used to it
I’ll still be here in the morning.


— yiqi 2 april 2007 3:40 AM

Pic creds: IMDB and Yahoo Movies (when it was still a thing)

Originally posted at my LJ.

Finding The Way Back

In the typical sports film, the narrative begins with the protagonist about to hit or already hitting rock bottom, and must then spend the entire movie reaching a better outcome in the form of athletic success and personal evolution.  The Way Back (Gavin O’Connor, 2019) is not a typical sports film.  The central figure of the story doesn’t hit rock bottom until three-fourths of the way through the movie.  Furthermore, halfway through the nearly two hour-long film, I question whether or not The Way Back is a conventional basketball film since the storyline and character development of the very reluctant hero, Jack (Ben Affleck), are more concerned with his unapologetic self-noncare than the signification of basketball as more than a competitive team sport.


Directed by the same man who helmed Miracle (2004), The Way Back opens by introducing Jack to the viewer as a construction worker and loner who has a routine: work, the bar, home, wake up with a beer in the shower and repeat — all set to downbeat, mid-tempo piano music.  The next sequence sets up the basketball element: Father Edward Devine (John Aylward) from Bishop Hayes High School is in need of a new basketball coach.  Is Jack, the former Bishop Hayes High School basketball star, interested?  The film might devote a whole scene to Jack practicing saying “no” on the phone, but it never actually shows a phonecall as the following sequence has him at the high school meeting assistant coach Dan (Al Madrigal) and all the players.  Our reluctant hero has accepted the offer, so his new daily routine consists of construction working and basketball practice/games.

The Way Back presents the weaknesses of its protagonist in such a way that the viewer is more invested in why he’s got a drinking problem and seemingly hates himself.  The film eventually provides his entire backstory but only after his team has started to win a bunch of games.  The movie doesn’t bask in basketball or general sports inspirational tropes too heavily until the moment that Jack decides to stop binge-drinking at the bar.  It is at this point where the viewer starts to care if his players make it to playoffs or not — and if the team captain’s dad will show up to watch him play.  In the final fifteen minutes of the film, The Way Back starts to lose its way in the narrative and thematic structure departments.  Is it trying to cover too many motifs by whisking a grieving parent’s drama with a basketball film?

I appreciated the momentum and mise-en-scene of the basketball aspect of the plot, but honestly, I was much more curious about Jack the drunk making peace with the tragedies of his past than Jack the drunk finding meaning in inspiring a group of really under-performing young men into much better athletes (yes, I know that the basketball facilitates the mental journey that Jack has to undertake in order to get his life back on track).  I maintain that The Way Back is an incidental basketball film that wouldn’t quite work as well with a different team sport.  The aesthetic qualities of football would detract from the movie being about Jack; baseball would be too slow-paced; futbol too fast-paced; hockey…too much equipment.

My only substantial gripe with this film is that there is too much movie score going on — there does not need to be a predominantly piano instrumental track every time something meaningful is happening on screen!  Can we get more ambient noise?  Why does every minimal dialogue scene have to look like a car commercial set to music like this?


I finished reading Ghostland and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes reading about and learning more on haunted spaces, American architecture, and American cultural history.  If ever there were a book that exemplies what a degree in American Studies can produce, it would be Ghostland.

Pic cred: Amazon