There is a big story shift change in the “Second Act” of Jennifer Lopez’s new film “Second Act”, that I didn’t see coming. Although the biggest surprise for me came at the end credits as it said directed by Peter Segal. From the trailers it was a name I wasn’t expecting to see. Peter Segal is a name that comedy movie fans is familiar with. Segal has called the shots on “Tommy Boy”, “50 First Dates”, “My Fellow Americans”, “Grudge Match”, “Get Smart”, and “The Longest Yard”. Segal is one of the few directors who can merge funny with heartfelt and serious into a story. He has a talent when it comes to balancing out those emotions. His influence is once again on showcase in “Second Act”.
It’s been awhile since Jennifer Lopez has taken on a light and fluffy comedy, like “The Back Up Plan”, “Maid In Manhattan” or “The Wedding Planner”. After taking three years away from films to do the tv series “Shades Of Blue” with Ray Liotta. “Second Act” is an attempt to revitalize the J. Lo brand and put the now 49 year old (who is still looking Meow!) back on the big screen. The film feels as finely tailored to J. Lo (who also produced) as her booty hugging skirts she wears throughout the movie.
Lopez stars as Maya who is clearly great at her job where she has been working in sales for fifteen years. When she has an opportunity at the big box grocery store for an assistant manager position, she is turned down and someone who knows nothing about the store but has a MBA college degree, is hired from outside. Unfortunately for her, Maya only completed her GED because life had dealt her a bad hand. So when Maya’s best friend Joan (Leah Remini) comes to her with a message about a job interview, one that she didn’t apply for. Joan’s well meaning son Dilly (Dalton Harrod) has “improved” her resume, and even created a fake Facebook account to make her look like she meets the requirements of a fancy new position at a large company. She gets the job by charming the head of the company, Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams). Maya is hired as a well paid consultant at the Manhattan corporate headquarters of cosmetics giant Franklin & Clarke. She’s instantly given a penthouse apartment that would be worth at least $5 million and a limitless expense account. Geez, what kind of a ship are they running at Franklin & Clarke? Seems a bit excessive for a consultant whose resume they didn’t even bother vetting. Where can I apply?
Within the company Vanessa Hudgens (triple meow!) plays the CEO’s daughter Zoe, who instantly sees Maya as a threat and challenges her to a competition to see which of them can come up with the best new line of “organic” beauty products. It’s a rivalry contest! Because that is exactly how it works with these big companies.
“Second Act” is a workplace romantic comedy of the late 1980’s, and comes exactly 30 years since “Working Girl”, opened in theaters. “Second Act”, moves along at a breezy pace, has a funny and heartfelt script. Unfortunately it checks off all of the cliched rom-com plays in the playbook. We get one of those “translation gone wrong scenes,” in which Maya and her bosses meet with a Chinese executive because Maya’s doctored resume claims she speaks Mandarin. Maya wears an earpiece and follows the instructions of a Mandarin-speaking veterinarian who is on the job as he tells Maya what to say, and can you imagine how things turn out as she is wound up repeating some of the things the vet is actually saying. Or how about when the soundtrack offers up a few tracks, that are played in scenes to emphasis the emotional context happening at that exact moment. We get it…she’s sad. Segal and screenwriters Justin Zackham (“The Bucket List”) and Elaine Goldsmith Thomas put Maya through lessons about the value of remaining true to yourself, and finding the courage to finally tell the truth in front of the big crowd, gathered for her moment of triumph.
The cast is well casted. Lopez and her on-screen romance with Milo Ventimiglia, who is just playing Jack Pearson from his leading role on NBC’s “This Is Us”, with mustache included. The chemistry between Lopez and “King Of Queens” star Leah Remini (another meow!) radiates, since the two bff’s on screen are in fact bff’s in real life. And, boy does it show. There is absolutely nothing manufactured about their closeness and comfort with one another. Their constant affectionate bickering makes for moments that will leave most women longing for their bestie. Vanessa Hudgens is perfectly perfect for this role. Jennifer and Vanessa also have great chemistry.
It is a bit of a stretch to watch J. Lo as a working class woman struggling to get by. Although she’s made a comfortable living playing determined working women. “Second Act” should be commended for examining the hard truths of women’s lives after 40 and for filling the film with characters who actually look like real-life women.
J. Lo knows her brand, “Second Act” is made for her. I couldn’t see anyone else in the role. It follows the rom-com cliches but it also adds a fresh take on the genre. It isn’t exactly the movie its trailer promises it will be, and that is what makes “Second Act” so special.
GRADE: ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★★