This Christmas season is severely lacking in holiday hijinks leaving the door wide open for feel-good family films to take its place. While Mary Poppins Returns caters to children and families, could Second Act fill that void for older audiences?
Synopsis: Jennifer Lopez stars as Maya, a 40-year-old woman struggling with frustrations from unfulfilled dreams. Until, that is, she gets the chance to prove to Madison Avenue that street smarts are as valuable as book smarts, and that it is never too late for a Second Act. (Elevation Pictures)
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens and Leah Remini
Writers: Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas
Directors: Peter Segal
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 103mins
Second Act follows the story of Maya Vargas (Lopez), an assistant manager at Value Mart, who believes after 15 years she deserves a promotion, but her lack of a college diploma causes her to be overlooked yet again for the position. Feeling lost and stuck with the value of book smarts over street smarts dominating the workplace, she receives a job interview at a big shot beauty product company with a fake resume. As she finds herself falling in love with the job and exceeding expectations, things become increasingly complicated in both her professional and personal lives making it harder for Maya to keep up her lie.
When Jennifer Lopez’s name is tied to a release, people either instantly love it or hate it, but don’t sell Second Act short because it may surprise you. While Lopez hasn’t starred in a live-action film since 2015, she decides to go back to her roots and stars in a role more reminiscent of her earlier work like Maid in Manhattan and Shall We Dance. Her character Maya is an incredibly layered and extremely relatable protagonist that deals with the harsh realities of the working world that many of us face at some point in our lives.
The film’s premise and trailer give an up-front idea of what this story will be about, but it also throws a few curveballs in there to help keep things interesting. This works to create two parallel worlds for Maya that are tonally different and separate themselves into their respective comedic or dramatic story lines. The comedy follows Maya as she tries to navigate her way through this new job while hiding her true identity; The drama follows Maya dealing with the painful events of her past while making new connections in her present. Each story has its own separate elements: a strong premise, a best friend character and its own resolved conclusion, but they still manage to tonally work thanks to how the writers have intertwined the two parts of Maya’s life.
Now to move onto the superb cast in this film who really help to elevate the entertaining story. Lopez excels in her role as the underdog working girl that becomes another in a long line of inspirational films that focus on the empowerment of women. She is of course aided by strong performances from Hudgens and Treat Williams as Zoe and Anderson Clarke respectively, but the true scene-stealers are the funny women of the film. Maya’s assistant Ariana (Charlyne Yi) is the kind of awkward funny that the millennial audiences can relate to, but this film works so well thanks to the raunchy, no-nonsense hilarity of Maya’s best friend Joan (Remini). Her scenes are worth the price of admission alone.
Now the story, despite its surprises, is of course formulaic in its structure, but when the feel-good formula works what’s the point in changing it? The first act does take a while to get going, but it’s in the second act that this film starts to shine. The only other issue with the film was the blatantly obvious CGI used for some of the elevator scenes. It wasn’t clear if it was the lighting that was off or the oddly framed shots, but those scenes just seemed so out of place.
Second Act is a surprisingly layered dramedy that excels at being both a hilarious and emotional ride. While there is some less than stellar CGI and the formulaic narrative is a bit slow at first, it picks up thanks to the charisma of the cast, comedic moments and heartfelt story making it the perfect feel-good film for the holidays. This film rides a fine line of raunchy comedy and over emotional drama to create an ideal tone for its story.
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