Directed by: Peter Segal
Screenplay by: Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas
Produced by: Jennifer Lopez, Benny Medina, Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Milo Ventimiglia, Leah Remini, Vanessa Hudgens, Treat Williams, Annaleigh Ashford.
While Jennifer Lopez, the mega-successful singer, dancer and actor has made dozens of movies, only a handful are actually what could be classified as rom-coms, yet she has become synonymous with those kinds of roles.
The trailer for Lopez’ latest outing, Second Act, gives the impression that Jennifer, playing an assistant store manager called Maya, is starring in a light-hearted romantic comedy about a local girl making good.
So it was a surprise to watch this movie unfold and discover that it wasn’t really a comedy at all, more an often reflective exploration of a woman turning 40, who wonders, is this all there is?
And why is life experience not valued as highly as a university degree?
Sure, there are some comical moments, mainly due to Lopez’ playful interaction with her bestie Joan, played by Leah Remini in a role that Joan Cusack used to play with ease. There are a few scenes where Lopez’ character Maya is mistakenly supposed to have talents that lead to humorous outcomes. There is also a gently wry sub-plot involving a dorky chemist at the corporation where Maya becomes a highly-paid consultant, and her eccentric assistant who has an extreme fear of heights. But these light-hearted moments are not the focus of the plot.
Despite having similarities with Working Girl, where the heroine learns to add a veneer of polish to her outward appearance, while her street smarts give her the advantage she needs to succeed, this film relies on a deliberate lie that inadvertently gets Maya the requisite foot in the door of a successful corporation.
She may have been employed based on information that severely exaggerates her accomplishments, but once there it is her intelligence and business acumen that sees her score victories and her star start to rise, despite opposition from different men (and some women) who seem threatened by her business knowledge and innovative ideas.
But Maya is harbouring a secret from her past, one that inhibits her and leaves her feeling unworthy of success in her current life, so that she doesn’t readily embrace the opportunities that Fate has suddenly thrown her way. The movie takes a sudden turn down an unexpected path that I didn’t see coming, and that adds even more layers of suspense and interest.
Of course, in any movie with a heroine who has down-to-earth girlfriends, you’d expect there to be some romantic ups and downs. Maya’s boyfriend of five years, Trey (played by Milo Ventimiglia, shuttling from coast to coast across America while working on this film and the TV series This Is Us) seems too good to be true. He also wants something from the relationship that Maya is too conflicted to provide (and can’t tell him her reasons). So their issues provide an undercurrent of tension as her professional star rises.
One scene shows Maya jogging (ostensibly for exercise), yet I got the impression she was running from her demons as well, often dwelling on past mistakes and waiting for the moment she will be exposed. This angle gave the film a slightly less predictable plot arc whilst also imbuing the interaction between characters with unexpected depth, but without ever really leaving the audience in doubt of the eventual outcome.
The film, despite not being a normal rom-com, is entertaining, briskly directed, with a fabulous wardrobe for Ms Lopez, effective use of locations and a hummable soundtrack, as well as a supporting cast that ably assists with fleshing out the action.
According to director Peter Segal, Second Act is ‘about second chances, reinvention and not giving up’.
According to Lopez, who was also a producer on this film, the mantra is ‘the only thing stopping you is you’, a lesson her character learns and accepts, just in time for her own particular brand of happy ending.