The film: Career Opportunities (1991)
The Principals: Frank Whaley (Jim Dodge), Jennifer Connelly (Josie McClellan), Mulroneys Dermot (Nestor Pyle) and Kieran (Gil Kinney), John M. Jackson (Bud Dodge), Noble Willingham (Roger Roy McClellan), Barry Corbin (Officer Don), William Forsythe (head janitor), Target Department Store (as himself), John Candy (uncredited cameo as Target manager C.D. Marsh). Written and produced by John Hughes. Directed by Bryan Gordon.
The Premise: Jim Dodge is the town liar – a young man stuck in a post high-school limbo with his head in the clouds and his personal reality dictated by the wag of his tongue. Unfortunately his flighty, unmotivated nature has made it impossible for him to keep a job. His father, fed up with the boy’s lack of ambition and inability to contribute to the household offers him a choice – apply for the night clean-up boy position at the local Target department store, or move out. Opting for the former, Jim gets locked in by himself on his first night by the head janitor. The evening starts off pretty mundane as Jim makes an attempt to do the job he was hired for. But, boredom quickly sets in and the self-proclaimed entrepreneur soon takes advantage of the wealth of adventures offered by what lies on the department store shelves to make the store his personal amusement park. But while in the midst of his roller-escapades he discovers that Josie McClellan – the daughter of the town’s wealthiest businessman – has been locked in the store with him. She reveals that she fell asleep in the dressing room after attempting to shoplift in an effort to rebel against her father. For the rest of the evening Jim and Josie begin to connect as they learn more about each other and themselves… until two criminals break into the store and take them both hostage…
Is It Good? As a film, it’s… a little better than okay. As a John Hughes film, it’s one of his weaker efforts. Hughes takes a lot of elements from his earlier work and just rehashes them here. That’s not to say that they are executed poorly. All the familiar themes and beats are here, it’s just that more often than not they simply fall short. You’ve seen this movie from Hughes a dozen times and done much better.
That doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. The character moments and comedic beats that do work connect well and make for an enjoyable experience. The premise is fun and playful. It’s entertaining alone to watch Whaley’s character throw responsibility to the wind and just make Target his own personal playground. You almost find yourself wanting to join him, or at the very least brave your local Wal-Mart long enough to partake in a little light mischief yourself. The movie also makes good use of the trademark character asides that are a staple for a John Hughes film – moments that offer nothing of substance to the movie, but are instead little side scenes where supporting characters (or even characters introduced for that scene only) engage in a funny moment or conversation. I found myself chuckling quite a bit during these breaks in the main plot.
The leads deliver solid performances like you’ve come to expect from the Hughes body of work. Whaley does a really good job of balancing the traits of being lovable and a loser at the same time, to the point that you find yourself rooting for him and being frustrated with him simultaneously. The strongest aspect of his performance is how well he sells how committed Jim is to his own ridiculousness. Jim fully believes in the lies he tells. And his skewed perspective on life is not only normal for him, but it’s the normal. To him, it’s the rest of the world that’s ridiculous.
Connelly is charming and sweet as always, and does a decent enough job portraying one of the standard Hughes female templates. She illustrates her boldness (which is typically demonstrated through her sexuality) when she needs to rebel against her father or deal with the two criminals, but is just as able to put her vulnerability on display during the tender character moments. Aside from that, there isn’t much required of her, except to be an attractive foil for Whaley’s character. And that was the one odd thing that I noted about Career Opportunities. Connelly’s sexuality is really put on display here – in her attire, in her mannerisms, and in her performance. Usually, when John Hughes focuses on a female character’s sexuality, it’s in the service of character development or as part of a character’s journey – either theirs or someone else’s. It generally serves a purpose. And although it does kind of do that here, it almost feels like that was intentionally backseated in order to say “Look what that girl from Labyrinth developed by the time we cast her in this film!” They really put her out there in almost every scene she’s in (in a tight, white tank top, no less), whether it be lying awkwardly on top of Jim as they hide from the crooks in the dressing room, having the brothers Mulroney make her and Jim lie down on the floor, face first while the camera gets ample cleavage, or even the scene that was the selling point of the whole film in trailers and promos – Connelly riding a mechanical horse. And it’s not just me, as apparently the director was criticized for exploiting Connelly for her image when the film came out.
When not spending a good portion of the film’s short run time with gratuitous Goblin King obsession, Career Opportunities does manage to fall flat when it comes to one plot point. At the beginning of the movie, it’s established through news sources that there are two criminals on the loose. This detail is created and given special attention, then almost completely forgotten until it’s needed during the third act. This creates an uneven flow to the film, as we spend most of the movie watching Jim and Josie do their Hughes thing onscreen, only to have that convenient device brought back in just so our two protagonists have a final conflict to resolve in order to complete their character arcs.
But therein lies the other minor issue I had with the film. That final conflict is a waste, because not only does it not act as the final catalyst that allows them to “come of age”, it actually thwarts the completion of that journey. Letting Jim and Josie successfully foil the criminals prevents them from learning the final lesson they were gearing up to learn during the course of their night together in Target and instead serves as a magical solution that gives them exactly what they each wanted. Jim gets the kind of life he has been lying about, and Josie gets to escape from her “awful life” with her dad. Our protagonists “win” and live happily ever after, but ultimately are denied the lessons they spent most of the film trying to learn. In the end, that betrays what makes a John Hughes film a John Hughes film and is one of the reasons why I consider it one of his weaker efforts.
But despite the shortcomings of the movie, Career Opportunities still manages to be enjoyable, thanks to Whaley’s performance, the quirky humour Hughes is known for, it’s fun and playful nature, and let’s not even try to pretend here – Jennifer Connelly’s eye candy.
Is It Worth a Look? Career Opportunities is currently on Netflix Instant. Because of how convenient and easy it is to add it to your queue, I think it’s worth giving a watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon or during an upcoming weeknight now that most of our favourite shows are going into hiatus for the summer. I don’t feel it’s worth going beyond that effort to seek it out, since there are so many better films out there that come from the same man. Now, if you happen to be a John Hughes fan, then have at it! It will be a nice, comfortable retread with the coziness you love from his other movies. But let’s face it, if you are a John Hughes fan (and there’s nothing wrong with that) you’ve probably already seen it and enjoy giving it a play every once in a great while, anyway. Especially for the mechanical horse scene. And also you should probably get out more. And maybe find your own place to live, because mom and dad really wanna turn that basement into a rec room. I kid, I kid…
Random Anecdotes: There’s a surprising lack of trivia and/or anecdotes to be found in regards to this movie. So, without further ado, here are a few personal ones:
I was a junior or senior in high school in northwestern Pennsylvania when I first saw this on cable some time in ’92. Before then, I had no idea what a Target was. I didn’t even know they existed. We certainly didn’t have them around our neck of the woods (literally). I thought it was a fake chain created for the film. It would be about five years before I would discover that they are real, when I got stationed in Virginia while serving in the US Air Force. Now, I am Target’s bitch. And the movie lied about Target stores having Jennifer Connellys in them. There are none.
Dermot Mulroney’s brother Kieren plays his partner-in-crime in this film. At no point is there a Dylan McDermott or a Kieren Culkin appearance.
There’s a rumour that Jennifer Connelly’s boobs make frequent appearances throughout this film. Honestly, I never noticed, so I can’t confirm.
Cinematic Soulmates: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Home Alone, Some Kind of Wonderful, Adventureland