Review: Second Act (2019) – The Big Lie

Jennifer Lopez and Vanessa Hudgens in Second Act

Gone are the days of Out Of Sight or even Maid In Manhattan, when it comes to Jennifer Lopez. These days we have been blessed with comedies such as The Back Up Plan and Second Act. While this might sound like a damning statement about the manufactured ‘comedy’ served up to us from time to time, it should. Second Act is a formulaic film, devoid of comedy and nuance while trying to convince us it has something relevant to say about today’s society. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t.

Telling the story of Maya (Lopez), an assistant manager at a supermarket who upon being rejected for the position of regional manager decides her life needs a change. When her godson fabricates a new CV for her, she is instantly hired by a leading cosmetics company and must quickly learn how to fit in in this new high stakes environment while she proves her worth. Facing competition from young executive Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens) she has to put up a good fight to show she belongs.

At least, that is what the plot was supposed to be before director Peter Segal decided that telling a story through playful montages was easier than actually giving his cast personalities of their own. While mindlessly enjoyable in a way, these segments rarely add depth or understanding, they merely progress the story quickly to the time of some carefully selected cover of a well-known song. This musical choice is supposed to act as a way of saying re-imagining yourself can sometimes be a good thing. However what it really says is, I know that song but it sounds different.

While Second Act would work as a story in 2002, here it is a decade out of date. A post millennium story that is being forced down a millennial audience’s throats. Mentions of how impressive the internet is and jokes about how wrong animal cruelty is were overplayed five years ago. In fact even Jennifer Lopez seems out-of-place trying to make the story work, her softly spoken shtick conveying little to no emotion, instead making her seem bored.

Committed to her role, Hudgens is lumbered with a tiresome and redundant plot twist that turns her into a story device, not a human being. In fact, most of Second Act is populated with cardboard cut outs of people who appear normal at first glance but lose a whole dimension upon conscious thought. From Maya’s godson, whose sole role is to propel the story forward, to her assistant Ariana (Charlyne Yi) a walking punchline whose ‘worth’ is proved through physical comedy instead of actual ability. In a film about finding yourself and proving you are good enough, everyone here is defined by their relationship to others, mainly how they can prove useful to Maya, making her seem more controlling than inspiring.

Crafting a story around these people could have worked in a sickly sweet way but the hidden message that you can be whatever you want, even at 40 barely covers the span of the film and the rest of the story doesn’t exist. While it has its moments with an entertaining showing from Leah Remini as Maya’s best friend and a dinner party scene with its fair share of laughs but it all feels a little too late. The old adage of a band aid for a bullet wound comes to mind  as Second act feels like the outline of an idea at best. While this isn’t Segal or Lopez’s fault, everything loses steam well before the end of even the first act and it all comes down to the fact that there isn’t anything here to begin with.


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