From the Archives: Second Act is a boxed wine movie

From the Archives: Second Act is a boxed wine movie

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

Maya (Jennifer Lopez) has been working at Value Shop for 15 years, and she’s so good at her job that there’s just no way she’ll be passed up for a big promotion, right? Right?

Wrong! Due to casual workplace sexism mixed with Maya’s lack of a college education, she’s passed up in favor of a clueless-but-well-educated cheeseball dude. She’s so offended by this that she quits, and when her new boss tells her she’ll never make it, she responds with a snarky “watch me!”

What follows is a story about Maya opening her own damn store and showing this turd how her powerful combination of experience and street smarts will always trump his bought and paid for qualifications. Right? Riiiight?


What actually follows is a story about her sassy best friend’s son using his computer to create a new online persona for Maya, complete with a falsified resumé, which leads to her getting a consulting job at the cushiest business firm in the city. She’s out of touch with the career elite, but once again, her street smarts will prove her to be a valuable asset, right? Riiight?

Well, sorta, but it’s not really about that either, because now the movie morphs into a “fat kids vs jocks”-style battle. You see, Maya has been challenged by the CEO’s daughter to develop competing lotion products for the company, only Maya has to do it with a ragtag team of company weirdos, while her competition has every resource at her disposal.

And then about three quarters of the way through it becomes a Christmas movie, due in part to a heavily telegraphed “surprise” reveal so ridiculous that it could potentially upend the entire film for even the least discerning viewers. Then again, what do I know? What do I care?

There’s a fundamental flaw at the center of this perfectly harmless career comedy: Jennifer Lopez is too synonymous with glamour and high living to play a believable down-and-out regular ol’ gal from Queens. Sure, she may assert that she’s still Jenny from the block, but the fact of the matter is that she is far from it. She’s Jennifer Lopez, aka J-Lo, aka the supremely famous and recognizable diva who can pretty much do it all, up to and including killing a giant Amazonian snake. What’s so frustrating about this flaw is that Miss Lo, unlike other all-purpose performers of her ilk, is a pretty solid actress. She just can’t get out from under her own glittery shadow. Then again, this movie wasn’t made with people like me even remotely in mind. The people for whom this movie was made won’t care that J-Lo is J-Lo (in fact, she’s precisely why they’re watching), so I should probably just shut up.

Despite being inconsistent plot-wise with enough conflicting moral threads to make any sort of statement functionally meaningless, I can certainly get on board with a film that seems to want to criticize the predatory nature of the job market. I’m also happy to see a film that espouses the notion that in many cases, college degrees pale in comparison to honest-to-god hard work and knowhow. But these points are not driven home in a meaningful way. They’re just the lightest of plot propellants put in place to keep the sassy feel-goodery in motion. Did I mention the film has a strange slapstick streak? Well it does. Any time Second Act runs the risk of being too heavy or thoughtful, you’d better believe that someone is going to fall over, usually resulting in a member of Maya’s demographically diverse group of “its wine o’ clock” friends saying something quippy.

They also lip synch together in the kitchen.

Rounding out the cast we’ve got Leah Remini as the sassiest of Maya’s friend group, Vanessa Hudgens as her workplace competition, and Treat Williams as the kindly older CEO. Maya’s boyfriend, Trey (Milo Ventimiglia) plays the airheaded, unfailingly supportive, easily damaged empty vessel usually relegated to female characters in male dominated films. It’s fun to see that terrible archetype being gender swapped, but it’s still lame.

Look at the poster for Second Act. You know if you’re going to see this, and if you are, you’ll probably dig it for the most part. Even by that standard, this is lower tier material. But all in all, this film is totally harmless and its heart is in the right place. My sister and mother often watch fare like this when they hang out, and I foresee Second Act successfully entering their cinematic rotation. I picture the two of them getting blasted on iced red wine (from a box) while laughing at Leah Remini and feeling represented. They’ll probably go get coffee at Barnes and Noble afterwards. Maybe they’ll cap the night at The Cheesecake Factory.

Second Act opens in Philly theaters today.

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