Jennifer Lopez’s new sort-of romantic comedy, Second Act, has a certain set of interior priorities I must respect. This movie compliments Milo Ventimiglia’s butt not once, not twice, but thrice. Leah Remini is a badass broad who smirkingly calls one of her sons a “little asshole” and I wanted her to be my best friend, not just J. Lo’s. And can you believe Lopez is 49? FORTY-NINE! Her cleavage alone throughout this movie looks better than any part of my body has ever looked at any age of my life.
So those are the delights of Second Act: objectifying America’s favorite dad and Rory Gilmore’s best boyfriend (not entertaining any other options, thanks), continuing to admire the greatness of Remini, and wondering whether intermittent gym attendance would result in thighs like Lopez’s (it would not). Otherwise, this is an incredibly paint-by-numbers genre project—a movie that clues you in on all of its plot twists a half-hour so before they happen, but then you still have to sit through that next half-hour. Everything goes as expected, which is to say, there’s a familiarity to Second Act that is genuinely comforting and yet inherently a bit disappointing.
Lopez stars as the 40-year-old Maya (Lopez), who has for the past 15 years worked at a big-box store in Queens, with the most recent six as assistant manager. She has a loyal boyfriend in baseball coach Trey (Ventimiglia), who joins her in the shower the morning of her birthday, and a loyal best friend in Joan (Remini), who works with her and immediately jumps to her defense whenever, wherever. But there’s not much Joan can do when Maya is turned down for a promotion to manager. The company instead installs a man with an MBA from Duke, whose “specialty is team-building” and who leads the staff through increasingly ridiculous exercises, anointing them all “knights” and encouraging them to approach their zones of the store as “fiefdoms.” With only a GED, Maya realizes that the future she wants is almost impossible to achieve.
(Ahem, an aside. I understand the point the movie is trying to make, but why would a guy with an MBA from Duke want to manage a big-box store in Queens? Why wouldn’t he get a job on the corporate side, not the retail side? Similar to how Vox Lux felt like a movie trying to make a point about celebrity that didn’t really understand how the pop-star ecosystem works, Second Act wants to paint all “educated” people with the same skeptical brush. It works for humor, I suppose, but isn’t particularly realistic. Anyway!)
Frustrated that the job she wants is out of her grasp and overwhelmed by Trey’s desire for kids, Maya sees a fresh start when the gigantic company F&C calls her in for a job interview. They know she worked at the big-box store, but they think as a consultant, and they also think she went to Harvard, hiked Kilimanjaro, volunteered in the Peace Corps, and is fluent in Mandarin—and they offer her a job with them. Will she help develop their new skincare line? With her decades of business experience, she would be a real asset!
And so Second Act follows Maya as she tries to keep up the façade and earn the job she wants, despite skepticism from Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens, rocking many a bold lip), who developed F&C’s previous skincare line, and increasing pushback from Joan, who thinks that Maya—now with her fancy new clothes, company-provided apartment in Manhattan (with three separate refrigerators, one entirely stocked with Sierra Nevada!), and elite coworkers—is forgetting who she really is.
I hesitate to call Second Act a romantic comedy because Ventimiglia’s Trey steps out of the narrative for most of the middle of the film (taking his butt with him, that selfish jerk), and because the movie is really more about connecting with family as a way to discover who you are. There is an adoption storyline that prioritizes the “find your birth parents” angle that I’m sure some people who are adopted would roll their eyes at, but it provides most of the emotional heft of this story, not Maya’s relationship with Trey. That is at least a bit of a change of pace from most films of this ilk, which would make everything Maya does about her boyfriend.
But this is a movie about a woman at a different place in her life. Her most primary relationship is initially with Joan, the kind of friend who would say of an outfit “You look like Mrs. Doubtfire” and who insults someone who is mean to Joan as “Lord Bag of Dicks.” (Remini is a treasure, and her real-life decades of friendship with Lopez makes the relationship feel beautifully lived in.) And Maya’s desire to change her career path coupled with the concern that she may have passed her opportunity years before is relatable, too, even though the film moves in increasingly ridiculous directions to prove its “hard work always pays off!” point.
Some of the movie’s more nonsensical comedic moments feel like writers Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and director Peter Segal (who previously helmed the Adam Sandler projects 50 First Dates and The Longest Yard) falling back on what they think will work instead of getting really creative. How else to explain injecting non sequitors (like when a flock of doves is obliterated by flying into a truck), character turns we’ve seen before (like when Charlyne Yi’s character goes from being a mild-mannered assistant to all of a sudden proclaiming that she’s “kinky”), and tired Internet memes (two characters discuss whether Rose and Jack both could have fit on the door at the end of Titanic; women bristle at a man saying the word “moist”)? None of those is particularly funny, but in the movie’s second, schmaltzier half, they’re about all that counts as jokes.
Second Act is uneven as hell, and if you just want to wait to watch this on TBS on a Saturday afternoon in nine months or so, I wouldn’t blame you. But as the movie of choice after a boozy brunch or as a way to decompress after holiday stress, Second Act—goofy and cliched, but not offensively either—will do fine. I mean, J. Lo gets down to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” during one scene! What more do you want than that?
Image sources (in order of posting): Epk.tv/STX, Epk.tv/STX, Epk.tv/STX