Welcome to Fistful of Features, a celebration of film preservation through physical media and the discussion of cinematic treasures to maintain their relevance in the cultural lexicon. Today we’ll be discussing the creative bankruptcy of John Hughes ‘90s output that began with a script that Universal Pictures refused to remove his name from, the middle-of-the-road romantic comedy Career Opportunities.
“Opportunity is missed because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison
Jim Dodge (Frank Whaley) is an insurgent dreamer and the town liar. He’ll accept the minuscule custodian position at Target to appease his father, but he’s going to do so on his own terms. In this half-baked exploration of the youthful transition into working class obedience, those terms consist of parading to work in a limousine he can barely afford to impress the neighborhood children who worship him because they don’t know any better. These character traits sound quite similar to those of Ferris Bueller, don’t they? Towards the end of the ‘80s, John Hughes was writing so swiftly and frequently that he would often be caught in a cycle of regurgitating and recycling concepts, characterizations, themes, you name it. There’s no clearer example of this than his script for Career Opportunities, which was written prior to his box office juggernaut Home Alone, but, to his detriment, was released in the wake of the latter’s success.
If Hughes had the foresight to know that the other youth-in-peril script would become the success it did, he probably would have tossed Career Opportunities right in the waste basket. Home Alone wasn’t a particularly good script either, but Chris Columbus had the cognizance to let the burglar subplot play out like a live action Looney Tunes short which parents and children ate right out of his palm in droves.
The wily eight-year-old also had personality, which is more that can be said for the obnoxious protagonist who enters a romantic scenario that’s more far-fetched than two bumbling crooks being outsmarted by a sociopathic bundle of joy. Jennifer Connelly does her best to bring dimension to her character with sheer presence, but this script only allows her to pine for a clueless loafer as the girl whose sole purpose is to get even with her neglectful dad by camping out in a Target and running away with the village idiot.
One can imagine the pressure first-time director Bryan Gordon was under carrying this picture, despite having the talents of Paul Mazursky’s cinematographer Donald McAlpine and composer Thomas Newman, who’s score became mistakenly minimal in favor of an underwhelming pop soundtrack. Sure, Gordon didn’t have the clout to cast Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as his burglars, but brothers Dermot and Kieran Mulroney can barely muster a spark of temperament between the two of them.
On top of that, Whaley isn’t exactly radiating enthusiasm either, which might be why he’s now best known as the mark who gets an unfortunate visit from Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction.
There’re two characters that both have vibrant personality in this film, yet, between the two of them, they barely have ten minutes of screen time. John Candy is vibrant, as always, as the manager who regrettably gives Jim the night job after a hilarious case of mistaken identity leads to him withdrawing his very generous initial offer from the table. The other winning scene comes from William Forsythe as the intimidating senior custodian who locks Jim inside after letting his disdain for slackers be known. These two scenes have great energy thanks to creative input from seasoned actors and, if this director had more veteran talent to offer creative input, it might have been possible for Career Opportunities to become more than a misguided comedy and an affectless commercial for Target.
Career Opportunities Special Features
- *NEW* Audio Commentary by Chicago Critics Film Festival Producer Erik Childress
- Theatrical Trailer
Available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber June 22nd, 2021.