Director: Peter Segal
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, Leah Remini, Milo Ventimiglia, Treat Williams, Annaleigh Ashford, Charlyne Yi
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Rating: PG13 (Brief Coarse Language and Sexual References)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/SecondAct
Opening Day: 3 January 2019
Synopsis: Second Act is a comedy in the vein of Working Girl and Maid In Manhattan. Jennifer Lopez stars as Maya, a 40-year-old woman struggling with frustrations from unfulfilled dreams. Until, that is, she gets the chance to prove to Madison Avenue that street smarts are as valuable as book smarts, and that it is never too late for a Second Act.
Jennifer Lopez hasn’t been on the big screen in three years, but ‘Second Act’ proves that her radiant presence hasn’t dimmed one bit. Produced by J. Lo herself, this riff of Mike Nichols’ 1988 seminal classic ‘Working Girl’ is tailor-made for the 49-year-old actress, recalling some of her more successful crowd-pleasing rom-coms like ‘Maid in Manhattan’ and ‘The Wedding Planner’. Oh yes, like those earlier box-office hits, Lopez plays a determined working woman on the low end of the totem pole – in this case, the hardworking but long-suffering ‘girl from the boroughs’ Maya Vargas, who is passed over for a promotion at the Queen’s big box store where she has been assistant manager for years, all because she doesn’t have a college degree.
Maya’s titular second act happens when, seeing her depressed at her birthday party for having hit a dead end in life, her godchild Dilly (Dalton Harrod) creates a fake resume and social-media profile for her that paints her as a graduate of Harvard and Wharton. Those impressive bogus credentials catch the attention of the boss (Treat Williams) of a premier consumer products firm in Manhattan, who calls her in for an interview and decides to hire her as a consultant for their skincare line of products. After some dithering, Maya makes up her mind to take up the offer, transforming herself convincingly into an immaculately dressed corporate bigwig. But looking the part is only half of the challenge, as Maya must quickly apply her street savvy ways in a competition with a younger co-worker Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens) to devise the most profitable organic skincare product.
The setup would have you believe that you’re in for a movie which will eventually re-affirm the value of ‘street smarts’ over ‘book smarts’, but you’ll find out at the halfway mark that screenwriters Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas have other intentions. Most notably, rather than escalate the professional rivalry between Maya and Zoe, their script changes the relationship between the two women in surprising, even jaw-dropping, ways. It’s a big enough twist for us to choose not to spoil it, but suffice to say it eschews a more incisive commentary on corporate culture in favour for a more intimate character-driven portrayal of a 40-plus year old woman having to come to terms with the past mistakes in her life.
As much as we can appreciate how Maya’s second act was meant to be both personal and professional, that narrative turn causes the film to undercut its more compelling theme, which unfortunately not even the heartfelt chemistry between Lopez and Hudgens can fully compensate for. It is also why the movie feels tonally inconsistent, simply juggling too many under-developed parts – from Maya’s struggles at work, to her bonding with Zoe, to her getting carried away with her fake persona – that it never really manages to weave into a coherent whole. To director Peter Segal’s credit, he tries to make the parts work as well as they can, and some of the scenes do pop – including one where Maya and her motley girl squad from the Queens have a spontaneous dance party to Salt-N-Pepa’s vintage ‘Push It’, one where Maya has to demonstrate her linguistic abilities in Mandarin at a formal business dinner, and those between Maya and her loquacious best friend Joan (Leah Remini).
Segal is a comedy veteran (of multiple Adam Sandler comedies like ‘Anger Management’ and ’50 First Dates’), and probably his significant contribution is assembling an ensemble cast whose singular talents are clearly evident. Remini is a hilarious and lively foil for Lopez, and John James Cronin is a hoot as her character’s owlish young son who takes after his mother’s cussing far too eloquently for his own good. At the workplace, Lopez has notable assists in Charlyne Yi as Maya’s vertigo-plagued assistant, Annaleigh Ashford as her often exasperated corporate executive, and Alan Aisenberg as their geeky chemist. Lopez even has Milo Ventimiglia as her adoring baseball coach boyfriend Trey, although that romantic subplot arguably gets the shortest shrift amongst everything else that Maya has going for her.
But of course, ‘Second Act’ was meant as a showcase for Lopez, who remains as effortlessly magnetic as she has always been. With the help of the costumes by ‘Sex and the City’ alums Patricia Field and Molly Rogers, Lopez also looks every bit the glamorous superstar, filling several wonderful curve-hugging sheath dresses like she was born to wear them. Frankly, we wished the material itself were better, not least that bit of narrative bait-and-switch which we suspect will not go down well with many viewers; having said that, Lopez plays it to her strengths as best as she can, and as a feel-good female empowerment movie, especially for women in their 40s, it’s enjoyably escapist stuff with an uplifting message that is easy to relate and embrace.
(It's nowhere near a second coming for J. Lo, but this comedy plays to her strengths and appeal, and those who enjoy her brand of charm will surely find this enjoyably escapist stuff)
Review by Gabriel Chong