Second Act is being touted as Jennifer Lopez’s “return to romantic comedy”, her last venture in the rom-com genre having been the mediocre 2010 film, The Back-Up Plan. And while I can understand why the studio wants to market Second Act as a rom-com, it’s more than a little misleading. Yes, Second Act is a comedy, but the romance it’s touting is maybe a total of twenty-five minutes of the movie from start to finish. Essentially Second Act is meant to be a movie about female empowerment, where street smarts should mean just as much in the corporate world as book smarts do, something Lopez’s character Maya sets out to prove after she is passed over for a deserved promotion at her job of fifteen years due to her lack of a college degree.
Her opportunity to do just that comes after her best friend’s son creates a fictional online persona where Maya has that college degree and job experience, along with some ridiculously impressive achievements like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and befriending the Obamas. The falsified resume and new online identity land her in a job interview with a corporate cosmetic company, where she is hired as a consultant. It’s here Maya meets Zoe Clarke (Vanessa Hudgens), daughter of the CEO Anderson Clarke (played by Treat Williams), who is in charge of the beauty care line that Maya diplomatically criticizes during her interview while giving some advice on how to improve the product to consumers. At this point you expect Zoe to become the typical ‘threatened female co-worker’ who plots to ruin Maya’s success as the two women are pitted against each other in a work-related competition, but thankfully Second Act avoids that particular ‘mean girl’ trope and shifts into something of a family dramedy for the remainder of the film.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the female-centric cast, namely Leah Remini and Annaleigh Ashford who carry the comedic weight, I felt like the male characters fell short of feeling even remotely necessary. Milo Ventimiglia felt horribly miscast as Maya’s love interest, Trey, a prop used to bookend the film in order for Maya to find herself, and a desire for a family (it should be okay that she doesn’t want a family, but well, you know…). Dave Foley was sorely underused and Freddie Stroma’s Ron, a colleague of Maya’s, is essentially your typical rom-com villain who spends most of the movie working to unravel Maya’s lies and expose her, but even he fell short of adding any sort of tension or conflict. Honestly, the movie doesn’t even need him, as Maya’s growing inner conflict is more than enough to drive the plot.
It has a few laughs, a touching if a bit contrived storyline about family, biological and otherwise, and Jennifer Lopez certainly won’t disappoint her fans with this performance. But while Second Act is a pleasant enough movie, it’s certainly not a memorable one.