Jennifer Connelly in Career Opportunies.
John Hughes has been called the voice of a generation and he certainly wrote and directed some classics. Career Opportunities (which he wrote) however, is not one of them. It sort of wants to be a combination of Ferris Beuller and Home Alone with a bit of The Breakfast Club thrown in, but doesn't come close to equaling any of them. If it weren't for a skin tight tank top and an electric grocery store pony this movie would never be remembered.
Jim Dodge (Whaley) is known as the town liar. Well out of high-school he still lives at home and has run through a series of jobs. His only friends seem to be the neighborhood kids to whom he tells a stream of unbelievable lies that they still seem to believe. His father gets fed up and tells him that if he doesn't get another job then he'll kick him out of the house, which leads to Jim getting a job as an overnight janitor at a Target store.
On his first night he is left alone in the store (which is just one of many plot holes. Hughes obviously never worked in retail or he'd know that's when the majority of stocking is done and the store would be full of employees). His shift seems to last as long as Ferris Beuller's day off as he finds time to clean, watch movies, try on clothes, and roller skate around the store.
He eventually discovers that Josie McClellan (Connelly), the daughter of the richest man in town is in the store with him. She fell asleep in the dressing room after trying to shoplift some clothes in the hopes of embarrassing her abusive father.
The beginning of the movie, when it introduces Jim and he lands the job, is pretty bad. Apart from a cameo by John Candy it's not very funny and Jim isn't particularly likable. When Jim meets Josie the movie steps up a bit for about twenty minutes as they talk and get to know each other. For a short time they become real people and share a couple of genuine moments as they realize that they are each trapped in their very different lives for very different reasons.
Sadly, any real emotion in the movie is quickly gone by the third act when two robbers show up at the store. Played by a slimy, unibrowed Dermot Mulroney and his real life brother Kieran, the two ineptly hold up the store and leer at Josie. They might not be the stupidest robbers ever, but surely they're in the running.
The arrival of the robbers also brings up another major plot hole, which is that at the beginning of the movie Jim is told that he's locked in for the night but the robbers are able to come and go freely out a back door in the stockroom. Much is made at times over the fact that Jim can't leave, but apparently he could anytime he wanted. If this was a smarter movie, I might think that this was intended as a metaphor for Jim's life in general, but this movie just isn't that smart.
There's only one good reason to watch this otherwise poor comedy and that is to see a beautifully buxom Jennifer Connelly. She eventually takes off her blouse to reveal a form hugging white tank top that strains to contain her magnificent (and I mean truly magnificent) breasts. She then proceeds to roller skate around the store with her bosom heaving at every stride. Later, to distract the robbers, she mounts the store's electric pony and proceeds to ride it. One of the movie's funniest jokes is when the pony stops and she asks if anyone has a quarter and all three of the men scramble to find change.
They might as well have showed Connelly roller skating or riding that pony in slow motion for 90 minutes. They are the only parts worth watching and the only memorable portions of the entire movie. I give it 2 stars because of her; one for each of them.
Jennifer Connelly and Frank Whaley in Career Opportunities.
I watched this movie before reading your review Scott. I was surprised to see how much you disliked it. I had never seen Career Opportunities before but I found it to be quite charming and amusing. It runs a mere 78 minutes (not counting the end credits) and it really flies by. It's a simple and quite wistful look at two young adults both stuck in unsatisfying situations. The plot might be silly, with several unbelievable elements, but by the end of this fateful night you know that the lives of Josie and Jim will never be the same.
It is also sweetly old-fashioned. It may have been made in 1991 but it seems more like the 1980s, what with the John Hughes' script and several of those cheesy montage scenes set to bouncy pop tunes. Frank Whaley is quite good in the lead. Yes he is definitely a Ferris Beuller type but with one big difference. Ferris was a high school kid whereas Jim Dodge is an adult. He is 21 and he still lives at home with his parents and his 24 year old sister (who also still lives at home). This reflected the then new social phenomenon of young adults living with their parents well into adulthood. It is a trend that continues to this day.
When Frank begins his new job he is asked by his supervisor if he is a slacker. Jim responds, “No... Presbyterian actually.” Scott, of course it is ridiculous that Jim is locked in the store all alone to clean. Although he is never actually shown cleaning. But then it is also made clear that this boss is a dick who makes his own rules. I think you were on to something when you wrote that the fact that these would-be robbers are able to get in through a back door in the stockroom is a metaphor for Jim (and Josie's) situation. Both feel trapped but in different ways. Josie is openly unhappy with her home situation even though she is the richest kid in town. Jim, on the other hand, has convinced himself that he is doing exactly what he wants with his life, when the truth is he is just too scared and unambitious to even try to get out on his own. In other words they are both prisoners of their own making. With any effort they could each discover the unlocked back stockroom door in each of their personal lives. By the end of the movie, they have.
The scenes between Whaley and Connelly are the best moments in the movie. They each tell the other a truth about their lives. Josie tells Jim all the neighborhood kids that he thinks look up to him actually call him the town liar behind his back. Jim tells Josie about a dance they shared long ago and how much the memory of it has meant to him over the years. I agree with my brother on this section of the movie at least.
And yes, the robbers are quite inept but then they are played for laughs. They actually reminded me a bit of characters in a Coen brothers' movie (think Raising Arizona). This is a comedy after all. It never takes itself too seriously, and it has two likable characters to root for. Perhaps best of all, in this day and age of overly long movies, is the short run time of Career Opportunities. It certainly doesn't overstay its welcome.
On a side note I once ran into Jennifer Connelly in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She was shopping with her husband Paul Bettany and she was pushing one of their kids in a stroller. Paul was giving change to a homeless man. My husband Rich came out of the store and asked me why I was staring at Jennifer Connelly. The funny thing is she looked familiar to me but I couldn't quite place her until Rich told me her name. She is even more beautiful in real life than on the big screen, especially her eyes.
Despite being somewhat derivative, Career Opportunities is an endearing little comedy. It is quintessential John Hughes and features two solid performances by its leads.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (1991)