John Hughes is a revered filmmaker responsible for some of the most influential films of the 1980s and 1990s. Classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles are just a few of Hughes’s best. But as prolific as he was, and as good as so many of his films were…there had to be just a few that simply…missed.
And so I introduce 1991’s Career Opportunities, which initially promises the same kind of clever teen movie that became a Hughes signature, but fizzles midway through. However, Opportunities has gained a following for one reason: the gorgeous 21-year-old Jennifer Connelly makes one of her first starring appearances and nearly melts the screen. But we’ll get to that.
Frank Whaley plays Jim Dodge, a story-spinning 20-something who dreams and talks big, but still lives with his parents and cannot for the life of him keep a job. His father, played by the Admiral from J.A.G., is sick of it, and tells Jim that he’ll be shipped out of town if he doesn’t get and keep his new job: a night janitor at a nearby Target store. After a brief cameo by John Candy as the store’s manager, Jim is hired on, but soon discovers the job is his worst nightmare: he’ll be left alone all night.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Connelly is introduced as Josie McClellan, the daughter of the town’s most wealthy and influential man. As one might expect, her situation is anything but privileged, and she is in a near-constant state of rebellion against her controlling, aggressive father. She enters the Target with every intention of shoplifting, but ends up chickening out and falling asleep in one of the fitting rooms.
Unaware of Josie’s presence, Jim goes about his “Night Cleanup Boy” duties…until he gets bored, of course. Then we’re treated to an overlong montage of all the things a person alone in a department store might do in the era before security cameras were prevalent. It struck me that Target stores really haven’t changed a whole lot in 22 years. Signage and typography remain virtually identical. Also, as Jim navigated the aisles in a dress and on rollerskates, it occurred to me that the tone of the film was much like that of modern “indie” films. Back in 1991, this was a major release by a highly-successful creator, so it seems strange that this style is now the standard for smaller releases. Of course there really wasn’t an “indie” scene back then, so…
Anyway, Jim and Josie eventually run into each other…and Jim subsequently runs into a rack of panty hose. The pair get to know each other as they careen from location to location within the store, and we learn a bit about their motivations. But not nearly enough. Absent of any real plot, character development is the sole narrative drive, and we never really learn why Jim is how he is. This is the film’s most charming and yet most infuriating segment. Jim’s nearly-neurotic loquaciousness pairs interestingly with Josie’s knowing-but-troubled personality, but all the talking never really goes anywhere. Especially after a plot is very belatedly dropped on them in the form of two armed robbers.
And this is where the movie really craps out. Brothers Dermot and Kieran Mulroney play the crooks, and are neither menacing enough to be a credible threat or wacky enough to be memorable. They don’t even have a plan, and a closed department store seems like a very unlikely mark for them. Obviously, Jim and Josie end up getting the better of them, but it never seems to serve much of a purpose. I wondered if the film might not have been better without the robbers. Simply have Jim and Josie talk and get into shenanigans and fall more and more in love throughout the night.
Of course, they’ve fallen in love anyway…or at least as close to love as anyone could get in a single night locked in a Target. Josie, with $52,000 in her purse, convinces Jim to run away with her to California, and so they do.
All in all, it’s not a bad movie, but it is certainly mediocre, especially compared to the pedigree of its creator. It’s largely watchable because of Jennifer Connelly’s youthful, unhewn beauty and how well her character uses that beauty to her advantage. If Career Opportunities has a “legendary scene,” it takes place as Josie rides a coin-op horse as the slack-jawed robbers look on, but the movie provides plenty of opportunities to admire her voluptuousness and be seduced by her intelligent eyes.
In the end, watch it for young Jennifer Connelly, or perhaps to witness a prototype of the independent film. But don’t expect another John Hughes classic. For that, there are far better opportunities…