The only thing people remember about Career Opportunities (1991) is the image of Jennifer Connelly riding a mechanized horse while wearing a revealing top. For a generation, Connelly became a sex symbol. Throughout the eighties Connelly was the teen star that young people had a crush on, much like the Frank Whaley character in the film. As the primary representation of women in Career Opportunities, Connelly makes good on the promise of Ally Sheedy’s transformation at the end of The Breakfast Club (1985).
In many ways Career Opportunities is a continuation of the thematic explorations that John Hughes began with The Breakfast Club. The characters in The Breakfast Club would be roughly the age that Whaley and Connelly are in Career Opportunities. Again, they are trapped together and forced to reckon with differences of gender, class, and high school experiences though this time their “prison” is the consumer playground of a Target store. This makes sense since as adults, having outgrown high school, capitalist spaces of rampant consumerism become the great unifier of Americans.
And if the improbable romance between Connelly and Whaley is the realization of the discarded relationship between Andie and Duckie, then the confrontation between Connelly and Whaley and the Mulroney brothers is a cathartic reprisal of the carnage in Home Alone (1990). John Hughes is essentially taking a selection of his most beloved, trademark tropes and applying them to twenty-something characters. It feels like a bid by Hughes for relevancy to a generation who has outgrown his naive expressions of teenaged and childhood angst.
Even though Career Opportunities is very much Hughes’ film he himself did not assume directing duties. Bryan Gordon was the director who steered Career Opportunities away from the Reagan era shenanigans of Hughes to a more subtly sexual sensibility. Gordon clearly relishes visual innuendo and knows how to build an escalating sexual tension. Although Gordon’s work has primarily been on television, he is perfectly able to create and sustain sexual tension throughout the bulk of a feature’s runtime.
Unfortunately for Hughes and anyone who has seen Career Opportunities the Frank Whaley character is one of the most despicable and unlikeable characters of any John Hughes project. This failing keeps the viewer at a distance as Hughes’ script plays out like a career retrospective of familiar ideas as Gordon attempts to imbue them with a maturity that is resisted by the script at every turn. Career Opportunities did not make Hughes relevant again, but it did make Connelly a sex symbol.