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To mix multiple sub-genres of one particular film into one cohesive story is difficult at the minimum; but can sometimes be extremely intimidating, though severely rewarding, when done right. Second Act, Jennifer Lopez's big return to being a silver screen lead, certainly tries its best to pull off such a task, and in some cases it definitely succeeds. True to its tagline, and one of its mantras spoken in the film, the only thing standing in its path to becoming a better film is, sadly, itself.
Second Act covers the story of Maya (Lopez), an associate manager in a big box store that aspires to full on store management. When she fails to do so, her big birthday wish is to awaken in a world where street smarts equal book smarts. Through the scheming of her best friend's son, as well as a beefed up resume and social media presence, Maya lands a consultant position at a top notch consumer product company.
The film's title has an interesting double meaning when you look at it the right way. While Second Act truly speaks to Jennifer Lopez's Maya, and her big career change, it also signals when the film actually starts to pick up. Which means that in order to actually enjoy this film, you have to slog through a clumsy, padded first act.
Not only does the group of mom friends, lead by the usually hysterical Leah Remini, manage to weigh Second Act down when it's trying to take off, but Lopez's on-screen romance with This Is Us star Milo Ventimiglia feels like it has no business being in this film. While they start the film dating, a spat separates them for a good portion of the middle half, having Ventimiglia's character, Trey, only reappear towards the end of the film.
Though there are plenty of other characters that could easily be removed from Second Act, as there's tons of loose threads, and unnecessary adversaries that get in the way of the film telling its story in the way it seems to truly want. In the presence of so many problems, it would have been easy for Second Act to close the curtain after its first.
And yet, the eventual relationship between initial rivals Jennifer Lopez and Vanessa Hudgens turns into something that functions as what would have been a better seed for Second Act's foundation to be built around. Somehow, one crucial plot twist throws these characters together in such a scenario that it plays to Lopez and Hudgens' strengths. It's from this point on that the two actors really strengthen the film, and it's regrettable to think that if this was built better into the film's dumpster fire of a first act, this could have been a welcome surprise for the holiday season.
It isn't long before the final stretch of Second Act starts to really show how at odds with itself it truly is. The remainder of the film does maintain some of the magic that Lopez and Hudgens find in its contents. And surprisingly enough, there's also a pair of stand out performances from Charlyne Yi and Alan Aisenberg, playing effective comedic relief characters that help steal the show with a handful of good laughs.
But as if they never truly went away for most of the middle of Second Act, both the troupe of mom friends and the ex-boyfriend come back, as if they were part of the ending the whole time. It almost feels like these story strands were added onto the film's story, in the name of marketability, and they could be written out just as easily.
As it stands, Second Act is the strongest part of the film with that same title. For a brief moment, what started as a garden variety rom-com / empowerment tract turned into something a little more dramatic, and definitely more human. It's unfortunate that the film couldn't sustain that story throughout its entirety, as it feels like a feel-good patch of success sandwiched by two soggy buns of disappointment.
The end result is a film that can somewhat be enjoyed, but in a limited capacity. Even fans of Jennifer Lopez, or the more genre friendly films that Second Act has in mind in its execution, are going to want to inquire elsewhere.