Movie Review: Second Act

It's like 2002 all over again.

At 49, Jennifer Lopez is still uncannily youthful in appearance—like, portrait in the attic youthful. So it’s very much to her credit that she’s playing a 40-year-old in her new workplace comedy Second Act. (Yeah, still almost a decade younger than she actually is. But still! 40!)

Despite that, Second Act seems curiously frozen in time. It’s not just a throwback to the kind of films Lopez was making in the early aughts, like The Wedding Planner and, especially, Maid in Manhattan, it seems stubbornly indifferent to the reality of the passage of time. Lopez’s Maya lives with her dishy, baseball coach boyfriend (Milo Ventimiglia), who wants to start a family. Maya is reluctant—but not because of fears of infertility or even because she has made a considered, adult life choice to not have children. She has other reasons—which the film will eventually disclose. The film takes it for granted that if and when Maya decides to get pregnant, she will!

That’s just one of the ways Second Act feels out of whack. The whole film feels off, always a step too fast or too slow, like a drummer on a pop track that can’t quite find the beat.

Here’s its Working Girl meets Maid in Manhattan (meets—oddly enough—the recent Amy Schumer vehicle, I Feel Pretty) premise: Maya is working at a Wal-Mart-type store where she’s an assistant manager and absolutely crushing it. She wants to get promoted to store manager, but the company has an elitist policy wherein it only promotes those with college degrees, so she quits. Her tech whiz godson creates a false resume and impressive online presence for her—Wharton Business School grad, Peace Corps, fluent in Mandarin, the works—and she gets hired as an executive consultant at a family-owned beauty company. She first clashes with—and then befriends—the 20something heir to the company (Vanessa Hudgens) who runs the cosmetics line. (An exact plot point from I Feel Pretty, by the way.) None other than Treat Williams—where ya been, man?— plays the kind-hearted company patriarch.

Second Act gets a few of the grace notes right: Charline Yi is particularly winning as Maya’s adorkable assistant, who has an inconvenient fear of heights (the offices are on the 59th floor) and a few sly secrets up her sleeve. There’s a mildly funny bit about how Maya’s potty-mouthed bestie (Leah Remini) keeps trying not to curse in front of her impressionable son. (Honestly, “funny” is generous. But hey, at least they tried.)

But movies like this are all about temporary lows that lead to soaring triumphs—those big pay-off scenes where we can laugh and cry and shout, “You go, girl!” at the screen. And Second Act botches all of these to an almost laughable degree. Maya’s big confrontation with the villain—a smarmy young executive at the beauty company (Freddie Stroma)—is sidestepped before it even happens. Her confessional speech in front of an audience at a cosmetics convention (exactly like the one in I Feel Pretty…weird, right?) gets truncated and then passed off to her underlings. An important montage prominently features characters we haven’t met before. A life-changing disclosure just kind of…happens, with little suspense or buildup. The two most emotional reunions toward the end of the film are rushed, particularly one involving Hudgens’ Zoe.

In Second Act, Jennifer Lopez is mostly let down by her script. I still think she can be a bankable romcom star, but she needs to find a film that allows her—and her audience—to finally grow up.