Saturday 20 November 2021

Movie Review: Second Act (2018)

A lightweight corporate comedy, the frivolous Second Act is even unsure what story it wants to tell.

In New York, fortysomething Maya DaVilla (Jennifer Lopez) is the Assistant Manager at a Value Shop store. Despite 15 years of experience and plenty of streetsmarts, she is passed over for a promotion because she lacks a college degree. Her relationship with boyfriend Trey (Milo Ventimiglia) is strained because he wants to start a family and she isn't ready, still haunted by the baby she had to place in adoption as a 17 year-old single mother.

Maya's best friend is the foul-mouthed Joan (Leah Remini). For Maya's birthday, Joan's teenaged son gifts her a spruced up on-line profile, inventing advanced education degrees and a sparkling record of philanthropy. She is soon offered a job by a major cosmetics company, where she is welcomed by the president Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams) and his vice president daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens). Maya feels guilty about landing a job based on fake credentials, but is quickly thrust into a competition with Zoe to develop a new skincare product. A shock revelation awaits.

Directed by Peter Segal, Second Act is a nausea-inducing affair, with a soapy self-empowerment song breaking out on the soundtrack every two minutes. Somehow the limp plot meanders from an oh-so-shallow streetsmarts versus booksmarts theme to a mother-daughter reunion and laments about past decisions and present lies. The race to develop a new skincare product works hard to demonstrate cluelessness about product research methods and the modern corporate work culture, while simultaneously underlining women's fixation on looks in a film supposedly about valuing anything but.

Some jokes from the script by Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas do land, mainly delivered by the supporting cast. Leah Remini is often the only tolerable presence on the screen, while Annaleigh Ashford (as an acerbic junior executive) and Charlyne Yi (as an intern with a fear of heights but no shortage of courage in other places) add the occasional spark. In contrast Jennifer Lopez never convinces, while Vanessa Hudgens struggles to hide the strain required to deliver lines.

Once all the saccharine resolutions are wrapped up in a bland bow, prolonged dreamy narration winds down the story, amplifying the sound of scraping at the bottom of the ideas barrel.

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