John Hughes-Scripted Comedy Fantasy Misses the Target



Let’s fantasize… It’s the tail end of the 1980s, and John Hughes is being dragged through Target by his wife.  On the way home, he writes a screenplay about a Ferris Bueller-type being locked in the store overnight.  There’s a beautiful girl, maybe a couple of hair-brained criminals, and a chance for our snarky hero- now in his early twenties and wondering what he should be doing- to redeem himself.  Hughes then pitched the screenplay.  Not to studio execs, but into the back of his car.  Amusing in the moment, perhaps, but there’s nothing there, and it needs an ending.  Later though, in the wake of his mega-hit Home Alone, the screenplay is discovered and filmed as is.

However it really came about, Career Opportunities opened- and promptly closed- in early spring of 1991.  The bright burning name “John Hughes” nor the tightly tank-topped cleavage of Jennifer Connelly could not save it.  Much buck-passing and handwringing ensued as Career Opportunities utterly failed to live up its title for most parties involved.  Hughes dismissed the whole thing as “cheap and vulgar”, proving, if nothing else, he hadn’t lost his sense of astuteness.

All these many years later, Career Opportunities is arriving to Blu-ray.  Even in high definition with uncompressed audio playing up its very Hughes-ian soundtrack, the movie passes like a breeze: two-thirds recycled air, one-third body odor.  No surprise, considering that most of the movie takes place overnight inside a locked-and-sealed Target store.  

Meet Jim Dodge, a twenty-one-year-old go-nowhere “town liar”.  As played by the talented Frank Whaley, Jim Dodge is, by design, anything but artful despite the character’s best efforts.  The problem is that the shadow of the sublime Ferris Bueller’s Day Off hangs over the more reality-infused Career Opportunities.  In such, Jim is presented as a smarmy self-confident huckster who seems to talk to the camera, but also an invisible everyman who can’t hold down a job.  

Desperate for work, Jim is hired by John Candy (in a one-scene cameo) as overnight clean-up boy at Target.  His surly gun toting custodial boss (William Forsyth) promptly locks him in the store by himself until 7am, tasking him with every possible cleaning related job.

Instead of doing that, he has himself a goof-off montage with the store merchandise.  To him, the world remains his oyster.  In his deluded mind, the “Target” sign becomes “Jimget”.  (An expensive momentary sight gag in no way worth it). Then, standing there amid the packed displays of Leggs pantyhose in the plastic eggs, walls of cassette tapes, and $1899 19” television sets, he finds none other than Josie McClellan (Jennifer Connelly).  

Up to this point, she’s turned up in only a handful of scenes: a mirage-like appearance in a car; a weird, teasing come-on to her wealthy dad’s friends that’s accompanied by a shredding electric guitar, and her at Target contemplating shoplifting.  It turns out she fell asleep in the changing room and awoke to find herself locked in the closed store.  Josie is a poor little rich girl, and she knows it, but her bonding with Jim is as sweet as it is contrived.  She promptly joins him in his irresponsible shenanigans, roller skating through the store and whatnot.  Eventually, the pair share a romantic interlude in the live aquariums and green plants department, a non-existent part of any Target store, even in 1991.

Then two armed criminals (played by Dermot Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, scowling and hilariously dimwitted, respectively) arrive inside the store (don’t ask how, they just get in) to threaten our protagonist couple.  (This sort of thing happened more often in John Hughes screenplays after Home Alone).  The ante is upped, allegiances seemingly shift, and a lot of Target merch gets loaded into a car, because apparently the loading dock could be opened this entire time.  Will Jim and/or Josie outwit these yahoos??

Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ Blu-ray edition of Career Opportunities should not disappoint fans.  For bonus features, there’s a trailer for the film and a few others, as well as a new audio commentary by Chicago Critics Film Festival Producer Erik Childress.  Childress is a great listen, appreciative enough of the film to justify the gig, but not quite going to the mat for it.  He’s brisk and engaging but not overly rapid-fire with facts and filmographies.

Never mind the question of how Universal Studios let this movie happen, the real question is, how did Target let this movie happen?  Per plot demands, the venerable retailer is portrayed as reckless in hiring and security policies, not to mention employee management.  Granted, back then, Target was not at all the go-to shopping destination that it is today.  In the early 1990s, it was merely one of several big box retailers, one indistinguishable from another.  But even if allowing this depiction came in under the adage of “any advertising is good advertising”, this really could’ve helped.

As far as the movie itself was concerned, at the time, the scuttlebutt was that Career Opportunities was all about ogling Jennifer Connelly, with little else to offer.  Of course, then the talent of John Hughes was ubiquitous and taken for granted.  Looking at this on-and-gone not-quite-teen comedy thirty years on offers its own opportunity for reassessment- something that any considerate film buff or film historian ought to take to heart.  Upon said re-assessment, Career Opportunities is in fact all about ogling Jennifer Connelly. 

After a setback or two, the beloved Connelly landed on her feet with a solid career and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (2002’s A Beautiful Mind).  Her leading man, Frank Whaley, wasn’t quite so fortunate. Though he has also enjoyed a prolific career, his A-list status was short-lived if it ever was real.  He’d co-headline the disturbing Swimming with Sharks in 1994 before being executed, Big Kahuna burger in hand, in Pulp Fiction that same year.  

In whatever case, it could not have helped that even though his name was stacked over hers on the call sheet, she was literally stacked over him on the poster.  (Which is also the cover of this Blu-ray).  Guess which one people remember when it comes to Career Opportunities?  The reality is that the film has a handful of funny moments, and the chemistry of the leads is better than the screenplay probably allows.  But by and large, “cheap and vulgar” checks out, as the merchandise on display is simply the stuff of fantasy.