Director: Peter Segal
Screenwriters: Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas
Runtime: 104 mins.
Australian release date: 6 December 2018
Previewed at: Roadshow Theatrette, Sydney, on 23 November 2018.
With the festive season fast approaching, a smorgasbord of films is about to be released and amidst the feast is a timely film masquerading as a rom-com, Second Act. A definite crowd pleaser, it stars the gorgeous Jennifer Lopez as Maya Vargas, a capable, clever, 40-something woman at the mercy of men who refuse to acknowledge her capabilities, struggling for recognition in a low-paying job. It’s a story we read in the media every day, especially in stories about politics in Australia, but we don’t see it reflected on our screens very often.
After 15 years at Value Shop in Queens, New York, six as assistant manager, Maya is ready to move up and has applied to be store manager. Her innovations at the store have been highly successful but, of course, she is passed over in favour of a man with little experience but who possesses a college degree. Like Lopez herself in her ‘Jenny from the Block’ persona, Maya has street smarts but no tertiary education. One day, out of the blue, Maya receives a call asking her to present for a job interview at a Madison Avenue corporation, saying they were impressed by her CV. Huh? It transpires that her bestie Joan (Leah Remini) has a son, Maya’s godson, who’s a whiz on computers and, to cheer Maya up, he’s whipped her up a fake work history. Unsettled, but recognising she’ll never advance with only a high school diploma, Maya decides to go ahead with the interview, where she impresses the CEO, Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams), but encounters only hostility from his daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens). Maya gets the job but her new city job alienates her working-class boyfriend, Trey (Milo Ventimiglia). Still, she forges ahead using the real-life skills she learned on the shop-floor, until she and Zoe are forced to go head-to-head in a do-or-die project to produce a better product for the company. As the plot thickens, there are lots of clever twists and one very unexpected turn, resulting in an engaging, thought-provoking experience.
This is a well-cast film, with Lopez very convincing as a woman desperate to change her life and ‘make good’ but who’s unable to shake free of her background. Co-writer Justin Zackham says, “[He and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas] cooked up this story about a woman who feels she never got a fair shake. But then she gets an amazing opportunity, albeit not entirely honestly, that changes everything for her. She gets to know what life is like when your dreams come true.” But she gets a lot more than she bargained for, too. Lopez occupies a lot of screen time and she carries it off with panache. Credit must also go to Remini, whose gal-pal character is responsible for a lot of the laughs and who is completely loyal to her friend, never exhibiting any jealousy or negativity and always there with some wise counsel. She can see the importance of Maya’s escape from the drudgery that women of her class are subjected to and the on-going battle for women’s rights in the workplace. She and her co-workers from Value Shop are sassy but real - it’s refreshing to see some plus-sized women on screen too.
Peter Segal usually directs broader comedies than this but he has succeeded in portraying this novel screenplay in a balanced and believable fashion which should certainly appeal to a female audience. Along with the comedy there are some serious messages here. Second Act is also a wonderful paean to NYC, in a visual sense. Ueli Steiger’s cinematography envelops the atmosphere of ‘the city that never sleeps’ in all its glory with his crisp lensing and vibrant use of light and colour. These qualities are supported by Richard Hoover’s quality production design and Molly Roger’s costumes, and they all effectively combine to deliver an eye-catching treat.