“Second Act,” Doesn’t Take Itself Too Seriously

Photo by Barry Wetcher - © 2017 STX Financing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Photo by Barry Wetcher – © 2017 STX Financing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Second Act invites viewers to fall in love with actress Jennifer Lopez again. For a while in the early 2000s, she arguably led the rom-com game. Films like Maid in Manhattan and The Wedding Planner weren’t well-received by critics, but I have fond memories of them. In fact, Lopez’s movies have never been particularly well-reviewed, but she’s developed an audience that went to see everything she made up until Gigli. Second Act is a classic, old-fashioned Jennifer Lopez movie – charming, sweet and sometimes mind-bogglingly stupid.

Maya (Lopez) has worked at the same department store for 15 years, and she’s worked her way up to assistant manager. On the eve of her 40th birthday, she’s up for a big promotion and her boyfriend Trey and best friend Joan (Milo Ventimiglia and Leah Remini) cheer her on. After she doesn’t get it, she wonders about what her life could have been. After Joan’s son takes some liberties with her resume, she receives a call for a big-time Manhattan job, an interview that she somehow nails. Now, she’s working on the 58th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper and living the dream, but it’s all perpetrated on a lie that threatens to doom her at every move.

This is not a good movie. It’s a Cinderella story that feels about as fresh as hearing Jenny From the Block in line at a Starbucks. But, against all odds, I enjoyed myself. Jennifer Lopez is firmly in her wheelhouse here, and she remains a delight. This is exactly the kind of role she’s best in, I just wish the movies were better. This female empowerment story almost sticks the landing, but there are so many things that coincidentally go right, that it’s hard to take seriously. Luckily, it’s not really taking itself seriously.

Leah Remini, Milo Ventimiglia, and Vanessa Hudgens add to the TV-movie vibe, for better and for worse. Remini is very funny, as Maya’s friend who’s been there through it all. Hudgens, who I normally don’t care for, is quite good here, and Charlene Yi, who I normally do like, is gratingly annoying. Her character works in a Manhattan skyscraper but is afraid of heights. This makes for a one-joke character, and the joke gets old fast. I’m surprised at how this movie was able to strip all of the charm and appeal away from Milo Ventimiglia. He’s the boyfriend asking the lead character to compromise, and he seems tone-deaf most of the time. Ventimiglia is an actor with an effortless charm to him, and it’s almost all gone here.

Directed by Peter Segal, who has a reputation for directing mid-shelf comedies that aren’t terrible, but aren’t great, seems perfectly suited to this material. The script, by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Justin Zackham, feels very much like a sitcom but rests on a twist that comes halfway through, which sets the real story into motion. The story becomes more complicated, and more interesting, after this reveal.

There’s still a bunch of jokes that don’t land and moments that feel forced, but overall, I enjoyed watching Jennifer Lopez headline a decent comedy again. If she can crank out decent comedies like this on a somewhat consistent basis, her acting career might truly have a second act. It would be the perfect movie for a corresponding home video release. With so much playing during the holiday season, I can’t tell you to prioritize seeing Second Act in theaters. But I would say it’s worth catching on streaming, or on basic cable eventually.

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