“I’m not happy. I’m working nights, everybody thinks I’m a liar, my whole family’s laughing at me… Reverend Harwell gave me the finger last week!”
The Scoop: 1991 PG-13, directed by Bryan Gordon and starring Frank Whaley, Jennifer Connelly and Dermot Mulroney
Tagline: Maximum comedy at minimum wage!
Summary Capsule: Two teens bond over a night locked in at Target
Justin’s Rating: Quality check on aisle 4
Justin’s Review: So the big question I’ve always had was what happened, exactly, with John Hughes between the 80s and 90s? He went from writing and directing some of the most iconic teen comedies/dramas of the era to… Curly Sue. Home Alone. Dutch. Baby’s Day Out. It’s like he was so afraid of being typecast as a teen comedy writer that he went overboard into the whole kiddie flick genre instead. And no disrespect meant to the late genius, but it’s a damn shame that he gave up on what he was best at.
Yet during this transition from teen to kiddie, there was another John Hughes flick (written and produced by) that could be seen as the epilogue on his 80s career. It was called Career Opportunities, and I’d never heard about it before now. That’s probably because it’s not the best movie in the world, not by a long shot, but it is interesting in the context of Hughes’ filmography.
After all, Career Opportunities has many of Hughes’ 80s trademarks: a smart talkin’ teen who breaks the fourth wall, a rich girl who doesn’t have it so good, bumbling parents, elaborate visual gags, John Candy (in a quick cameo), montages, angst, and the theme of trying to figure out one’s life amid the uncertainty of youth. The problem is that these trademarks are slathered on a paper-thin plot (janitor gets locked in a store all night with a cutie stowaway) and any hint at comedy beyond a whimsical moment or two is beyond the grasp of these filmmakers. It’s just not that funny or captivating of a movie, although it really could’ve been. Hughes did make the most of a minimal setting with The Breakfast Club, but here he can’t figure out how to write two recently-graduated teens in a relatable way.
Our hero, such as he is, is Jim Dodge (Frank Whaley), who grates from the get-go. He’s kind of Ferris Bueller if Ferris was even more of a liar and not funny at all. Jim’s schtick is making up ridiculous stories and telling fibs at a moment’s notice, which gets him fired from every job he’s had. His last chance to make some money before being kicked out of home is taking up a night janitor position at the local Target.
And oh my goodness is Career Opportunities the biggest Target ad you’ve ever seen. I mean, more blatant than what they had going on in Spice World, and that’s saying something if you’ve had the misfortune of seeing that film. As the majority of the film takes place during a one-night span in the store, we get plenty of opportunities to gaggle at what this chain looked like over two decades ago. Apart from the racks of cassette tapes, it’s surprisingly similar from the one down the street from me.
Anyway, Jim bumps into Josie (Jennifer Connelly), a rich brat who’s hiding in the store from her abusive father, and the two engage in half-hearted scenes of “deep” talk and rollerskating and generally destroying 60% of the store’s inventory. Seriously, if you need a game to play during this film, take out a note pad and start trying to figure out how much all of this lighthearted fun will end up costing Target come the morning. My guess is somewhere around $75,000, accounting for inflation.
Career Opportunities isn’t a long film — just 80 minutes — and yet it tacks on three additional subplots just to fill out the void between montages. One has a pair of criminals invading the store, one is about Josie’s dad looking for her, and one is about Jim’s dad… eating food. Seriously. This is filler not even fit for canine consumption, nevermind human.
But if I was forced to come up with this movie’s virtues, I can honestly say this: Connelly is never hard on the eyes (and it’s too bad she was wasted on this instead of a better Hughes flick) and the soundtrack, as in typical Hughes fashion, is quirky and upbeat. It’s not a terrible movie that wrenches the soul; it’s just a ghost of a better idea that’s gone when the morning sun rises.
- Count the product placement!
- Count how many times the criminals cock their pistols!
- That is one lucky horse.
- So… if Jim was so worried about being locked in, how come everyone could leave and enter through the back door as they pleased?
Josie: And you’re happy, you know, you’re happy.
Jim Dodge: I’m not happy. I’m working nights, everybody thinks I’m a liar, my whole family’s laughing at me… Reverend Harwell gave me the finger last week!
Custodian: Are you a slacker?
Jim Dodge: No… Presbyterian actually.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- The Breakfast Club
- Home Alone