During that time between graduating from college and starting my “career,” I spent about six months working at Target. I worked the early shift…4 AM to 12:30 PM…unloading the truck and stocking shelves. I have no complaints about the experience, the Target Team was good to me. But pretty much every day I worked there, this movie popped into my mind. It primarily takes place in a Target store during the overnight hours, and features an actress I had a crush on since I first saw her in “Labyrinth.” It only makes sense that my contribution to the Jennifer Connelly Memorial Crush-a-Thon is a review of a Jennifer Connelly movie…1991’s “Career Opportunities.”
The hero of our story is Jim Dodge (Frank Whalley) a 21-year old pathological liar who still lives at home and has a knack for being fired from whatever job he lands. After losing his latest job at the local pet hospital, his father (John M. Jackson), who drives a cement mixer for a living, informs him that he’s out of the house if he can’t find work. This lands Jim at the local Target. At first, the manager (an uncredited John Candy), mistakes Jim for the man he wants to hire as operations manager. But when he realizes his mistake, he hires Jim as the overnight janitor.
We are also introduced to Josie McClellan (Connelly), the beautiful daughter of the richest family in town. She can’t stand her life or her overbearing, and physically abusive, father (Noble Winningham). She does everything she can to make life difficult for her father, including gaining a reputation as the town tease. On this day, as Jim arrives for his first day at Target, she is also at the store…shoplifting so as to embarrass her father.
As the store closes, Jim is given his responsibilities by the head janitor (William Forsythe) and then, ignoring all fire codes, locked in the building for the night. Jim starts well enough, dutifully sweeping the aisles…but boredom soon sets in and he begins occupying himself by eating from the candy section, trying on clothes, and roller skating around the store. It’s on one of his skating laps that he spots Josie, who claims to have fallen asleep in the changing room.
Though he’s a bit dorky and she’s knock-out gorgeous, the two begin to connect as they talk about the challenges of moving into adulthood. Josie is anxious to leave home but can’t bring herself to do it. Jim, on the other hand, is too comfortable mooching off his folks. Eventually the two agree to leave town together and head for LA…with the $52,000 Josie has in her purse. They celebrate this decision with more roller skating, but are rudely interrupted by two gun-toting, and disgustingly slimy crooks (brothers Dermot and Kieran Mulroney). They’ve got plans for a lot of the merchandise in store…not to mention Josie after she engages in the most suggestive ride on a coin-operated mechanical horse in cinema history. Somehow, Jim has to find a way to save the store, and the girl he’s falling for.
“Career Opportunities” was written by the king of the 80’s teen comedy, John Hughes. In many ways it feels like he took elements of some of his other films, threw them into that cement mixer Jim’s dad drives around, and this was the result. Jim is a little bit Ferris Bueller and a little bit Farmer Ted. Josie is Molly Ringwald’s character from “The Breakfast Club” five years down the road. And is it any coincidence that this film, released just 4 months after Hughes’ mega-hit “Home Alone,” also features two bumbling crooks?
Frank Whaley does manage a handful of fun comedic moments, but on a whole the film doesn’t really stand-out as a comedy. However, it does have a certain sweetness as a coming of age story. There is some believability to the conversations Jim and Josie have about taking control of their lives, leaving behind who they were in high school, and wondering whether those school times will be the high-point of their lives. This sort of honesty is not surprising for Hughes, he just chooses an odd setting to do it in this time around. But I will say that the entrance of the two crooks really throws the whole thing off. If it wasn’t ridiculous enough that this guy gets locked inside a store with a gorgeous girl on his first night on the job…adding two crooks to the mix pushes it over the edge. The side stories involving the parents of Jim and Josie also work against the film. In fact, one disturbing aspect of the film are the hints that Josie’s father beats her, though she shows now physical sign of this. Still, this aspect of the story is brushed off a bit too carelessly.
The two leads, though, make this a fun film. Frank Whaley nails playing a likable idiot. As for Jennifer Connelly…you can’t not fall in love with her in this. Scenes like the one where she slow dances with Whaley among the fish tanks in the pet department, or playfully roller skates with him through the aisles, are the sort moments that gave hope to many a lovesick former high school dweeb…like I was in 1991. She’s not the manic pixie dreamgirl…but she’s something more real.
I guess it goes without saying that in my six months working at Target, I never found a woman like Jennifer Connelly dancing in the electronics section in the wee hours of the morning. Probably a good thing I didn’t, since I was engaged to my future-wife at the time. But the playfulness of this film certainly made me consider strapping on a pair of roller skates as I stocked those shelves.