Pitching Second Act as a romantic comedy is dead wrong, as it is neither. The romance is barely a phantom presence within a plot that wildly spasms from one neatly contrived thread to the next, and the only comedy comes from a plucky and pleasantly inebriated sidekick.
Though I typically like to start reviews with a brief summary of the beginning of a film, this particular movie starts and stops its story more than once, so you’ll need to bear with me. In the very beginning, Second Act starts as a pandering sermon to the anti-intellectualism that is becoming all too common in modern political discourse. Maya (Jennifer Lopez) has worked in the trenches of retail for her whole adult life, and believes that she finally has a chance to get promoted to manager during a store visit from the district manager. Unfortunately, he can’t take her seriously because she doesn’t have a college degree. Fear not, her best friend, Joan (Leah Remini), has a son who will soon be at Stanford, and he creates a fake Facebook account and résumé that lands her a job at one of the very beauty companies she stocks at the store. Even under the horrible burden of living on a throne of lies, Maya takes the lucrative job and transitions into being a Manhattan big shot.
About 30 to 40 minutes later, we’ve nearly abandoned all that and found ourselves in an adoption drama where Maya discovers that the daughter she gave up years ealier, Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), is now working alongside her at this fancy company, and they have the opportunity to make up for lost time. No, those timelines do not add up.
Shortly thereafter, we have Maya trying to convince Zoe to go back to school to finish her art degree. You read that right.
While it seems impossible for characters to act out of character, with no real character development, Second Act achieves the impossible. Maya was once screaming about the elitist idiots who think book learning outweighs street smarts, and then tries to convince her recently reunited daughter that an art degree is super important. Nothing makes sense.
Continuing the trend of fantasy, none of the business-focused scenes make any sense either. Maya’s job interviews, both at the store and at the office, are simply not how job interviews work. The gamble the company takes on Maya’s proposed product line is not how companies work. The presentation of said new product it not how that works. Heck, even the holiday party is not how holiday parties work. I’m sure that Lopez’s contract includes a provision about having a dance sequence, but the one at the company party is humiliating.
The one faintly glowing firmament here is Joan. She’s given all of the good lines, and offers the only character with heart and comedic timing. Taking notes from The Good Place, Joan serves as an example of how not swearing can often be funnier than swearing, and she’s also the loyal friend that Maya doesn’t deserve. Were it not for Joan, this movie would have zero entertainment value.
Rather than continuing to tear apart a film that has already done enough damage to itself, I’d like to suggest alternatives. If you’re looking for romance, watch Cold War. If you’re looking for comedy, watch Game Night. If you’re looking for romantic comedy, watch Crazy Rich Asians. Whatever you do, don’t waste a second on this Second Act.