Movie Review: “Second Act” (2018)

All movies, to a greater or lesser degree, require suspension of disbelief.  It is a necessary part of the experience and the mere need for it does not make a movie a disappointment.  That said, sometimes what is asked of the audience in this regard is simply too great.  Such is the case with Jennifer Lopez’s latest film, “Second Act.”

Directed by Peter Segal with a script from Justin Zackham & Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, “Second Act” finds Lopez starring as Maya, a middle-age woman working as an assistant manager in a big box store in Queens.  She has a long-term boyfriend, Trey (Milo Ventimiglia), and a best friend, Joan (Leah Remini).  She is wonderful at her job, implementing new programs and boosting store sales.  She is also, she learns, not eligible to become store manager because she lacks a college degree.

It is a sad state of affairs and has the potential to be a great story, but as simple as the setup is, “Second Act” doesn’t handle it well.  The guy brought in to run the store, Arthur (Dan Bucatinksy), allegedly has the appropriate degrees and is big into team building and management, but is shown to be a complete moron.   He is clearly too old for this to be his first job in management, however, so it is impossible to fathom how he could be so bad at it.  It is done for the jokes.  We must suspend our disbelief.

Maya winds up with consultant work at a big firm, Franklin & Clark, after Joan’s godson creates a fake resume/online life for her and it is inconceivable that her work there proceeds as it actually would in real life.  Again, we must suspend our disbelief.

That particular suspension is okay within the realm of the story.  We don’t need to know the gritty details of how product lines are launched or how much time it takes or what “organic” means to cosmetics companies in order to enjoy the ride Maya goes on at Franklin & Clark.

Far more troubling, however, are the underlying reasons why Anderson Clark (Treat Williams) hires her and why she finds herself pitted again one of their executives/Anderson’s daughter, Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens).  The specifics of this are made clear early in the movie, but it would still constitute a spoiler to delve into it here.  Let us simply leave it at the suspension of disbelief required is immense.

The relationships Maya develops with Zoe and Anderson ought to be enough to convince her to come clean about her not having a college degree, but the movie never even broaches that notion.  “Second Act” uses Zoe not having a degree for other plot purposes, but doesn’t see a connection here to Maya’s career plight, which is unfathomable.  Suspend your disbelief.

While those last items are huge, as with Arthur there are so many moments within the film that the audience is asked to believe dumb things simply so “Second Act” can get in a joke. It is a part of Maya’s fake resume that she rowed crew in college and so during a team building exercise at Franklin & Clark she is asked to be the coxswain for one team.  With several days knowledge that this race is going to take place, Maya doesn’t bother to run a basic google search as to how to perform this task.

Maya is, we know, a smart, capable person.  The idea that she would know a task was coming and not bother to do anything to prepare requires us to forget everything the movie has been at pains to show us about her.  In someone’s mind, the entirely unnecessary, plot-wise, sequence is funny enough that it simply does not matter that it completely goes against the character. It isn’t.  It just isn’t.  Suspend your disbelief.

As a comedy, there is no problem in “Second Act” that isn’t going to be overcome before the credits close, and there are times when the movie appears to be so aware of this that it doesn’t bother exploring issues.  Maya breaks up with Trey, but he’s played by Milo Ventimiglia, so a break up at the beginning of the movie and us not seeing him again, is unlikely. The break up occurs because Maya has a secret from her past that she won’t tell him.  It’s not a secret that would affect their relationship, but despite having been with him for years, she’s going to keep it to herself.  When the time for them to have a discussion about this all begins, the characters just skip over it.  What should have been a long discussion, what deserves to be a long discussion, does not occur.  Keep suspending that disbelief.

There are certainly lighthearted, funny moments in this film, ones that do work wonderfully.  They mainly occur between Maya’s assistant, Ariana (the always funny Charlyne Yi), and a scientist, Chase (Alan Aisenberg), and are far too few.

Other times, “Second Act” opens and then completely jettisons subplots at Franklin & Clarke, making one wonder why remnants of them remain.   Dave Foley is criminally underused, Annaleigh Ashford’s character, Hildy, works with Maya until, for not particular reason, she decides she needs to work against her.  Freddie Stroma’s Ron is always against Maya, but again, there’s no logic to it.

There are, without question, funny moments in “Second Act,” but more often than not they tend to require that one doesn’t care in the slightest about how the movie gets to them or what their ramifications might be.  It is a movie that seems at odds with itself.  It wants to tell this serious, considered, tale of the struggles Maya has to go through, struggles that reflect our actual world and some of the problems with it.  It also wants to be a lighthearted romp where consequences don’t exist.  Either of those movies by themselves would be enjoyable. Together, they are a mess.

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photo credit: STXfilms

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