- Emma Simmonds
- 23 January 2019
Jennifer Lopez stars in a likeable self-empowerment dramedy that can't resist succumbing to cliché
'I wish we lived in a world where street smarts were equal to book smarts,' laments retail worker and Queens native Maya (Jennifer Lopez) after she's unfairly passed over for promotion. Beginning earnestly, as Maya's status as undervalued employee of Value Shop is established, Second Act boasts likeable characters and threatens to upend the usual comedy clichés before flagrantly succumbing to a succession of them.
Nonetheless, it's a good role for Lopez – here in 'Jenny from the Block' mode. We haven't seen much of J.Lo on the big screen of late and her superstar charisma remains undiminished, while there's an earthiness and sincerity to her performance that allows her to convince as a mere 'civilian'.
After she loses the store's managerial position to a mediocre man with the right qualifications, Maya's godson pimps her CV – unbeknownst to her – leading to a flash new job as a product development consultant at a major beauty label in the city. There, she butts heads with young VP Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), the daughter of the genial boss (Treat Williams), and is challenged to produce an entirely organic skincare range.
Director Peter Segal is a purveyor of so-so comedies (50 First Dates, Get Smart) and he's loath to do anything radical here. The film works best when it plays as a Working Girl update; when her flamboyant interview attire attracts the scorn of a foyer full of identikit, drearily dressed rivals, it's easy to cheer Maya on. However, the product placement is exhausting, and a subplot involving a child Maya gave up for adoption as a teen comes unwelcomely out of left field and lacks the screen-time to develop into anything remotely convincing.
It's not all bad news: refreshingly, romance with Milo Ventimiglia's moustachioed cheeseball Trey comes a distant second to the self-empowerment storyline; a fair few of the jokes land; Maya's friendship with Leah Remini's sweary right-hand gal Joan is credible and compelling. The foregrounding of its well-cast and diverse female contingent is appealing too (including Annaleigh Ashford's catty colleague and Charlyne Yi's ostensibly meek but secretly kinky assistant). Any original ideas might be long forgotten by the banal, public-speaking conclusion but Lopez and her feisty entourage see it through.
General release from Fri 25 Jan.