You know those turn-of-the-century rom-coms where the true-love relationship is predicated on a lie? Movies like Maid in Manhattan with Jennifer Lopez, or The Wedding Planner with Jennifer Lopez? Well, this modern update copies the style, formula and characters, right down to the sassy best friend and the comic-relief fifth wheel, except that in this case, it’s not a husband Lopez is after but a career.
Welcome to the job-com.
Maya has been toiling at the same big-box store for 15 years, working her way up to assistant manager and working to make the store thrive. When she’s passed over for a promotion in favour of a (male) outsider with an MBA, she quits. Fortunately, she’s just been headhunted by a prestigious cosmetics firm. Unfortunately, they think she went to Wharton, coxed, climbed Kilimanjaro, learned Mandarin and worked in the Peace Corps. Truth be told, she’s barely set foot outside of Queens, and never finished high school.
Peter Segal (Grudge Match, Get Smart) directs from a script by Justin Zackham (The Bucket List) and Lopez’s longtime producing partner, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas. The story they spin isn’t without twists, although they do tend to come sailing in from left field, and in one case from Hiroshima.
But the basic pieces are familiar. Lopez, almost 50 yet easily playing 40, has a beau named Trey (Milo Ventimiglia) who disappears for much of the movie over family disagreements – he wants one, and she isn’t sure after giving up a child for adoption when she was a teenager. She also has a pack of wisecracking friends led by Leah Remini, in a role that would have once gone to Joan Cusack.
On the job front, Vanessa Hudgens is Zoe, a vice-president who starts off antagonistic but ends up in Maya’s corner. Alan Aisenberg and Charlene Yi are quirky underlings who quickly get their own romantic subplot. And Freddie Stroma is the executive who senses Maya is lying and is determined to unmask her; I’d have given the film an extra star if it turned out his British accent was also just an act, but no such luck.
With its Christmastime setting, its impossible stunts – like the notion that someone could talk Mandarin to a non-speaker through an earbud and have them repeat it verbatim – and its on-the-nose messaging, Second Act isn’t the most surprising present under the tree this season. But with Lopez turning in a heartfelt performance and the rest of the performers following her lead, it’s difficult to dislike the results.