***Every so often, we here at RBT like to revisit older films to see how they hold up by today’s standards, to keep our film knowledge fresh, but mostly just to give us more things to argue about. Due to being born mid-way through the 80s, a lot of the cinematic fodder from that decade and the early 90s (classics aside) has perhaps passed me by. Tom Williams decided that enough was enough, and he prescribed Career Opportunities to be the inaugural entry in this continuing series. So without further ado, on with the review….***
John Hughes’ Career Opportunities is a hard film to have an opinion on. On the one hand, it’s a fun slice of nostalgia pie, a young male wish-fulfilment fantasy with a danceable and well implemented soundtrack. It also has that 80s/90s sheen that all John Hughes’ best films have. On the other, cold, hard, and cynical hand, it’s a slight, unremarkable piece of fluff, devoid of real drama, lacking originality, and displaying a sagging midsection.
John Hughes is one of my favourite directors and writers, ever. The hyperreal world he created that are inhabited by the characters of his best films is a joy to visit, his use of smart dialogue, pop culture references and pop music still defines teen-orientated content today, and he seemed like one of the few adults who really understood teenagers. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Plans, Trains and Automobiles, Uncle Buck, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science… These are the classic John Hughes films, and Career Opportunities falls into the ‘Lesser Hughes’ camp, alongside She’s Having a Baby, and Curly Sue, among others. Not that these films are bad, they just aren’t anywhere near as good as the real Hughes youth-centric classics.
Our protagonist on this merry tale is Jim Dodge (Frank Whaley), a young man with a talent for talking and not much else, whose grand plans stop him from actually achieving anything in his day-to-day existence. Aged 21 and living at home, Jim’s prospects don’t look too bright when, out of desperation (and via a brilliant cameo from John Candy) he lands a job as Night Cleanup Boy at his local target. Meanwhile, the local beautiful, but tormented-inside, rich girl, Josie McLellan (Jennifer Connelly) wants to escape her domineering father and, in her desire to do something, anything, about her situation, ends up botching a shoplifting attempt and getting stuck inside the store with Jim overnight. See what I mean about male wish-fulfilment? Cue a lot of gags involving rollerskates, ovens, clothes, food and hair-brained attempts to speed up the cleaning process. An underdeveloped plot point involving a store robbery attempt doesn’t quite succeed, but the way that the two protagonists change and affect each other is enjoyable, even if the basic plotting has been done many times before.
Jim is a Hughes protagonist in the Ferris Bueller mode, a gift for talking and an innate audacity giving you the feeling that whatever his failings, he’ll be alright in life. He’s believably deluded, and gives even some of the weaker lines an earnest like-ability that masks any script weaknesses. Jennifer Connelly definitely has the looks for the part, but she has also always been a real actress. The better aspects of the script are where she is able to persuade Jim that he isn’t happy with his lot in life, and that he should aspire to more. Some of the clunkier lines of exposition come her way, but she powers on through, delivering the lines well enough that they almost seem plausible. Hughes’ trademark quirky side characters are well-realised in what little screen time they have, with Barry Corbin as Officer Don and John M. Jackson as Bud Dodge, Jim’s father. Dermot and Kieran Mulroney give good, eccentric villain, but aren’t allowed much screen time to establish their characters’ threat.
The music is fantastic, and like a lot of John Hughes films, perfectly complements the onscreen action. Problem is, it’s genuinely one of the best things about the movie. So much time is spent on the (admittedly fun) mall escapades that the momentum of the story is stalled, and ancillary characters aren’t developed into anything more than cyphers. In a lot of ways, its Hughesian (it’s a word, I invented it!) touches highlight its shortcomings. The Breakfast Club this ain’t.
Still, if, on a Sunday afternoon, you want an easy watch, with a guaranteed happy ending, very mild peril in between, and you’ve seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off too recently, then this might hit the spot, albeit less effectively. Growing up in the mid 80s/early 90s, these films are fun in an ironic, nostalgic, wistful sort of way. If you were to judge it harshly, it would be an easy target to dissect, yet its aims are so amiable, it’s intentions so true, that it’s hard to dislike. Sort of like shooting a puppy.