Career Opportunities (1991)

Posted: March 7, 2014 in Movie Review
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Career Opportunities (1991)

Director: Bryan Gordon

Starring: Frank Whaley, Jennifer Connelly, Dermot Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney, Noble Willingham, John M. Jackson

Gentlemen, why do I get the sneaking suspicion that most night jobs aren’t anywhere near this exciting? I’ve never worked at night, don’t see myself working at night, and generally just don’t like being out of the house after dark if I can help it. Still, we take the work which we can get. Hard labor for minimum wage is supposed to be character building, and maybe sometimes it is. Other times it’s just a pain in the ass. Break bone for the Man and he won’t care. You’re expendable. We take these mind-numbingly boring jobs not out of choice, but out of necessity.

Jim Dodge (Frank Whaley) is really trying his father’s patience. He’s managed to get himself fired yet again. “That’s got to be some kind of record,” more than one person observes. Jim is in his 20’s and is nowhere close to getting married or even leaving home. He finds it hard to understand why he should leave when he loves his family, enjoys his mom’s cooking, and has a comfortable bed to sleep in. But his dad (John M. Jackson) is concerned that Jim will never make anything of himself if he continues living this way, so he finds Jim a job opening at the local Target… as the “Night Clean-Up Boy.” While on his first night there, Jim is locked in by his gun-toting, hard-ass superior and unexpectedly joined by Josie McClellan (Jennifer Connelly), the girl of his dreams from his high school days. Josie still lives at home, too, only her rich father (Noble Willingham) is so caught up in business dealings and in how he’ll look among other rich snobs that he hasn’t taken the time to truly know his daughter. As a result, Josie has decided to become a shoplifter, not because she wants the undergarments she’s stealing (she can afford to buy the store’s entire stock a few times over), but rather because it will get her father’s attention. Falling asleep in the dressing room wasn’t part of the plan.

“Career Opportunities” came during the post-“Home Alone” portion of John Hughes’ screenwriting career. It carries with it the same theme that most of his earlier movies used: Adults are stupid, while the young find common ground and enlightenment through open and honest dialogue. Like Samantha in “Sixteen Candles,” Jim gains the attention of the town’s most popular member of the opposite sex. Like the high school students serving detention in “The Breakfast Club,” Jim and Josie would never have interacted if not for one chance encounter. One difference between the two films is that “The Breakfast Club” did not require a manufactured conflict to keep the plot rolling. The appearance of the two crooks (real-life brothers Dermot and Kieran Mulroney) feels like unused ideas from “Home Alone,” minus the cartoonish booby traps. By the time the hoodlums arrive, Jim and Josie have done all of the bonding they’re going to do in a PG-13 rated comedy set mostly inside a retail store, and so this ‘conflict’ only exists to bring the movie to a conclusion.

Frank Whaley is no Matthew Broderick, but the lazy, live-at-home Jim Dodge is more relatable than Ferris Bueller’s spoiled rich kid out for a joyride.  He may be the lead, but he’s not the main draw. Anyone with any sense is watching this movie for Jennifer Connelly. Like a certain current 20-something actress named Jennifer, Connelly is naturally talented, beautiful and wise beyond her years. She makes you instantly interested in Josie’s personal dilemma, and she hopelessly outclasses her co-star while she’s on screen… and she looks good in a white tank top.

The movie itself is somewhat inferior when held up against the classic comedies which John Hughes brought us in the 1980’s. After a certain point… I think it was the success of “Home Alone” that did it… he never was quite able to match the success of his teen comedies and of those featuring John Candy (who also has an uncredited cameo appearance here). I’m left not all-together aware what the point of “Career Opportunities” was meant to be. Not all comedy is meant to have a point or teach a moral lesson, but Hughes’ own scripts usually did. Whether it was that everyone has similar worries and doubts, that you shouldn’t let your life pass you by, or that nothing can take the place of family, there were always words of wisdom at the end. The main characters often did something either destructive or illegal (or both) while never facing punishment, because it was all for a good cause. That happens here, too, but what are we to have learned? I suppose it could be to do what makes you happy, not just in work but in life. I’m just not sure. Maybe I’m just too hopelessly distracted by the eye candy to notice.

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