Flaws In The Formula: Our Review of ‘Second Act’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - December 21, 2018
Flaws In The Formula: Our Review of ‘Second Act’

Second Act already exposes its flaws even from a first scene full of B-roll footage. It reintroduces us to Jennifer Lopez, jogging while wearing full make-up. She jogs through Queens, New York, a borough that has a mix of mom and pop stores and a fancy, re-branded version of Duane Reed, an American drugstore chain. Seeing these stores show gentrification and upward mobility, social movements that Lopez benefited from.

Lopez, as she once sang, is still Jenny from the block. That’s true despite earning the fame and fortune that she hustled for and having things that I can’t begrudge her for. But showing her wearing make-up while doing something that most women don’t wear make-up for symbolizes many things. That she doesn’t have the mix of things to convince audiences that she can both be a borough native and a glamorous woman.

I guess that might be asking too much for a Jennifer Lopez movie, since she’s churned out bland comedies for almost two decades now. And yes, I acknowledge that if you pare movies down, there are only really a few plots out there. The thing about predictable movies is that there should be something compelling the protagonist into action and all this offers are a few pokes.

Second Act would have also benefited from someone who can pull off the duality between streets smart and conventionally smart. Here she plays Maya de la Villa, an assistant manager at a grocery store. Maya is a likable underdog, the receiving end of unintentional micro aggressive behavior from her Duke-educated manager (Dan Bucatinsky). You don’t need an Ivy League education to manage a store.

A company with no room for growth is a bad company. The fact that Maya isn’t moving up should be a sign for her and her best friend and co-worker Joan (Leah Remini) to get out of dodge. But I’ll give this plot point the benefit of the doubt. Maya, just like all of us who are working poor, wish for a better life.

So for Maya’s birthday, her 40th, Joan’s son Dilly (Dalton Harrod) made up a fluffed up resume. He then used that to apply to a few Manhattan firms to get her out of Queens. Fake resumes are always bad, but if she didn’t take advantage of this, we wouldn’t have a movie, would we?

Nonetheless, Maya’s manager’s micro aggressive behavior made her sail off into that life raft. The Manhattan skincare firm has a salt of the earth kind of CEO, Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams), the kind who fought as hard as she is right now. There is, however, a few thorns on her side in this firm, namely, his adopted daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens).

Movies like this don’t just have vainglorious stars as their flaws. The second one comes in the form a plot twist involving Maya and Zoe, a twist that turn them from adversaries to fast friends. They have a wonderful chemistry and they try to sell the hell out of that twist, but it distracts from Maya’s rags to riches story more than it enriches it.

The film has Anderson pitting Maya and Zoe together, since Maya proposed a 100% organic product. Zoe, however, thinks that they should just go with a slightly greener product. The one that they were gonna push at the end of the quarter anyway. They also bond while wearing Patricia Field and Molly Rogers’s fur ensembles. These ensembles look great but there’s irony in fur clad people trying to make organic skincare.

And no, the movie’s not smart enough to see the irony in that. Lopez’ movies play out like a fantasy of a local making it big. Cue the shopping montages. I can already imagine this playing at a gym years from now. This is ok, and everyone needs fantasy, but I wish her movies were as good as they were before.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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