Second Act, 2018.
Directed by Peter Segal.
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, Leah Remini, Treat Williams, Freddie Stroma, Charlyne Yi, Annaleigh Ashford, Milo Ventimiglia and Larry Miller.
A woman in her forties gets a new start in her career when a fake social media profile lands her a high-flying job at a cosmetics firm.
As a film critic, there are movies you will see that feel as if they have been tailor made for you, that cater to all of your needs and interests. There will also be films, however, for which you could not be further from the target audience. Second Act, starring Jennifer Lopez as a middle-aged woman keen to break out of her career rut, is unapologetically a movie for the prosecco crowd, set to play a key role in a number of girlfriend get-togethers in the weeks to come. I’m a bloke and I can take or leave fizzy wine, so it wasn’t really for me. As flawed as the film is, it lands a bullseye for its particular sweet spot.
Lopez clearly relishes the chance to take on a role with a little more to it than in trash like The Boy Next Door or minor vocal work in Ice Age sequels. She’s Maya – trapped in a low-paying supermarket job and repeatedly passed over for promotion in favour of mediocre white dudes who ramble on about King Arthur and round tables under the guise of “team building”. Her private life is in something of a rut too as she drags her feet over starting a family with her charming boyfriend (Milo Ventimiglia) as a result of emotional wounds opened when she gave a child up for adoption in her teens.
So far, so ordinary. Things take a turn for the contrived, though, when Maya’s godson secretly falsifies an online identity for her in which she’s a Harvard educated consultant with a background in globe-trotting philanthropy. In the godson’s own words, he “Cinderella-d her ass”. Soon, she has won the ear of a Silicon Valley CEO and has been pitted against his driven daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens) and her uber-posh, bafflingly evil colleague Ron (Freddie Stroma) in coming up with a new skincare product.
Second Act clings tightly to the template of the gentle romantic comedy, essentially playing out as a less outwardly offensive take on last year’s Amy Schumer movie I Feel Pretty. Just like in that film, this is a woman given the confidence to push for the life she wants on the basis of a bizarre comic construction. The difference here is that Lopez’s character is aware of that construction and the core of her performance is in conveying the character’s uncertainty as to whether she should be embracing the opportunity she has been given by a lie.
That perhaps sounds like there’s a little more behind the surface than there actually is, because Second Act leans towards simplicity. Lopez is great fun and has a nicely exasperated chemistry with Leah Remini, who plays her rather more uncouth friend. She also has an interesting relationship with Hudgens’s character, with their initial enmity changing to grudging respect and ultimately a really lovely friendship when they discover the things they have in common. Comedian Charlyne Yi, meanwhile, steals scenes with aplomb as a socially awkward intern whose fear of heights makes working in a glass-fronted skyscraper something of a nightmare.
All of this solid comedy material, however, is sidelined when the story decides it needs to minimise the laughs and get the melodrama moving. Suddenly, characters start telling Lopez she was always good enough for her job, despite the fact she wouldn’t have even got in the room without the lies. By the time she does the inevitable uplifting speech to a room full of people, my rolling eyes could probably be seen from space. This is not necessarily a bad film – and it’s certainly not as dismally offensive as I Feel Pretty – but it’s all very gentle and ordinary.
But if your idea of a great night at the movies is watching J-Lo dance around her kitchen to ‘Push It’ by Salt N Pepa, then grab the prosecco and nab yourself a ticket.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.