CREDIT: Barry Wetcher/STX

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, Leah Remini, Dan Bucatinsky, Freddie Stroma, Milo Ventimiglia, Treat Williams, Larry Miller, Charlyne Yi, Dave Foley, Alan Aisenberg

Director: Peter Segal

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Parents Who Swear in Front of Their Children But Are Trying Not To So That Their Kids Don’t Swear Back at Them

Release Date: December 21, 2018

At the end of Second Act, Jennifer Lopez assures us that we can always take a chance on ourselves and do that thing that we’ve always been holding ourselves back from doing. Alas, that is a huge oversimplification that ignores key details involving randomness and fairness (or lack thereof). You can work hard and be outspoken about your desire for a dream job, but ultimately landing that position requires some amount of luck and other forces beyond your control going your way. But like Dana Scully and her position on supernatural phenomena, I want to believe what J. Lo is telling us. But here’s the thing: despite its title, that’s not really the message of Second Act.

This frothy workplace/rom-com is more about the virtue of adaptability, as well as putting pompous educated folks in their place. A successful second act may very well require adaptability, but it is important to note that Maya Vargas (Lopez) is not the architect of her own second act. She may have ambitions to be more than an assistant manager at a supermarket, but it is her godson who beefs up her résumé with phony credentials, which gets her in the door for a consultancy job at a big-deal cosmetics company. She kills at the interview, because it turns out that, at least in Maya’s case, a GED and years of retail experience are worth just as much as a bunch of business degrees. While she does have to fight off a fair amount of self-doubt, she actually displays a minimal amount of impostor syndrome, considering the circumstances.

You would think that the major conflict from this point on would be Maya fighting to prevent her co-workers from discovering the truth of her background. That certainly plays a part, but it takes a backseat to a huge second act twist (pun not intended by me, but maybe the dramatic irony was intended by the script?) involving Maya and her new colleague Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens). The fallout is played rather sweetly, but it is pretty much impossible to get over how bizarrely unexpected it is. And that is representative of Second Act as a whole: it is a frothy good time despite being inconsistent with its message and purpose. It certainly helps that Maya’s best friend is played by Leah Remini, a real-life chum of Lopez’s who is always served well by a role that allows her to say whatever the hell is on her mind. As for the romance plot, Milo Ventimiglia is not given much to do as Maya’s boyfriend other than take his shirt off occasionally, which is nice to look at but is not typically a versatile tool for a screenwriter.

Second Act is Recommended If You Like: Jennifer Lopez and Leah Remini’s friendship, A bygone era of J. Lo-starring romcoms

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Fake Facebook Profiles