One of the Singles on the verge of a nervous relationship, in Cameron Crowe's 1992 stroll through modern dating and mating habits, ends the film asking: "Does everybody go through this?" Crowe's skill, also evident in his portrait of a thirtysomething agent wrestling with conscience and career in the newly released Jerry Maguire, is to make his audience wryly recognise that they do. His gift for astute observation and subtle, satirical humour suggests a less neurotic Woody Allen, and his work to date has captured both the spirit of the time, and his characters' time of life.

A wunderkind writer on Rolling Stone, he scripted Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), one of the decade's first brat-pack romps. After John Hughes picked up the traumatised teens baton with The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Crowe had the final word. Say Anything... (1989) had an unremarkable premise - rich, clever girl falls for lazy, kick-boxer to parental dismay - but Crowe, as director, managed to infuse a warm-hearted affection for his characters which saved the film from the cloying/ hormonal/unwatchable teen-movie trash cans.

Fast Times's director, Amy Heckerling, grew up to direct the Look Who's Talking films, and, with the help of some mobile phones, repackaged the high-jinks at high-school formula for the 1990s with Clueless. With the dismal She's Having a Baby, John Hughes attempted to follow his tearaway teens into adulthood, but Crowe was a step ahead again, living his twentysomething years in Seattle. Singles was set in the grunge capital, had a likeable ensemble cast (Bridget Fonda, Kyra Sedgwick, Matt Dillon), an episodic, meandering narrative, and a grunge-by-numbers soundtrack. After this, only the most cynical slackers could begrudge the faintly dewy-eyed "people need people" moral.

In Jerry Maguire, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Mudhoney have been replaced by The Who, the Stones and (can this be forgiven?) Fleetwood Mac, as Crowe confronts the trials of corporate life with verve and wit. Tom Cruise's Golden Globe-winning performance, without the aid of guns and jets, is also a study in maturing: hotshot Maguire bears traces of Cruise's trainee pimp in Risky Business, but his sympathetic humanity is all down to Crowe.