Disclaimer: I am currently job hunting, and this film did nothing for me by saying that a qualification will trump experience every time. I am not your friend, movie. But nevertheless, let’s talk about Second Act.
Jennifer Lopez stars as Maya, a 40-something assistant retail manager who feels she is failing to fulfil her career ambitions after being passed over for a promotion. Following a birthday wish, she discovers that her friend’s teenage son has concocted a completely new identity for her, with her credentials leading to a job offer at a leading cosmetics company. Assuming this identity she takes the position, leading her to butt heads with the company head’s daughter, played by Vanessa Hudgens, while also trying to pass herself as the professional that everyone thinks she is.
This is not the first time that Jennifer Lopez has played the role of a down-to-earth employee misrepresenting her way into the establishment, as was the case with her 2002 comedy Maid in Manhattan. But while that endeavour was in the pursuit of a romantic interest, Second Act takes the career route, followed by a series of reveals that complicates Maya’s willingness to tell the truth. If you were to compare the two films, this one has the more cohesive plot (despite that you would need more than a new Facebook page to pull off a new identity), while Maid in Manhattan is definitely funnier. Second Act does have its humour, but it is overlooked in favour of focusing on the more dramatic elements of the story. Well played, as the comedy in this film is derivative, with nothing new being added to this kind of story.
Said dramatic elements are where the film shines. The relationship between Lopez and Vanessa Hudgens is heartwarming, and they work very well off each other in selling the circumstances under which their characters live. I will admit, I did not see the twist in this movie coming (which I won’t spoil here). And while the movie does its best to explain what requires a minor suspension of disbelief, it adds a further dynamic to Maya’s predicament that accounts for her going along with what is clearly a very stupid idea. And Lopez sells it.
She has starred in a great amount of garbage over the years, but she is still a likeable and competent actress. Add to this Vanessa Hudgens acting rigorously hard to shake off the career-defining acting demeanour that was bestowed unto her by the High School Musical trilogy. Even though she plays a young character, she delivers a subtle and refined performance as her character arc actually has some meat to it.
On the filmmaking side, I am disappointed by its directing and narrative execution. While we have yet to see director Peter Segal produce a critical darling of a film, he is still a competent filmmaker having produced feel-good mozzarella cheese fests like Anger Management, Get Smart, and 50 First Dates. Second Act is also co-written by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Justin Zackham. While this is the first writing credit for Goldsmith-Thomas, Zackham is credited as writer for films such as The Bucket List and Paul Pott’s 2012 biographical film, One Chance.
Segal and Zackham know how to round off a narrative but in this, certain aspects of the film are underused and worst case scenario, completely overlooked. This lies with the comedy and the side characters. A trio of Lopez’s work associates are given sizeable amounts of screen time, with their setup obviously meant to be for comedic purposes, but then proceeds to do very little with them. In fact, all of these characters are just forgotten by the time the third act pops around. Also, you put Larry Miller in your film and gave him nothing funny to say. Shame on you.
Inadequacies like this illustrate a lack of focus on what the movie wants to be. Humour elements are established but are then discarded because of the attention shifting to the drama. And while the drama is good, it does not amount to a fulfilling conclusion and leaving your audiences with an impact. In fact, when it comes to this kind of setup, it would probably have been better to approach it fully with comedy, because it is a tired setup that we’ve seen plenty of times before but some more consistently solid laughs could have dressed it up better.
So Second Act is a mixed bag. The expected setup for it to be a mainstream comedy with a dramatic hook isn’t quite achieved, even though the drama is handled well and the result is great character motivation and engagement. It’s just a shame the rest of the film had to suffer because of it.
Last Updated: December 14, 2018