“Heal [her] pain.” Or so goes the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams. Heck, heal my pain. Watching director Peter Segal‘s Jennifer Lopez driven Romantic Comedy, Second Act, will have you exiting stage left in the dread of there being a third or fourth act. Or maybe, you’ll want to sound the emergency exit alarms during the first.
Lopez plays Maya, an intelligent and hardworking woman who, through her wit and determination, has risen to the level of Assistant Manager at her local supermarket. While Maya has accrued street smarts, creating an innovative crowd-sourcing system, she lacks the panache of a college degree. The Manager’s job she’s coveted is given to an egghead, Arthur (Dan Bucatinsky), who’s been mainlining Dale Carnegie.
On her birthday, Maya wishes she had a degree. Her godson, who’s the son of her friend Joan (Leah Remini), revamps Maya’s professional resume and background (side note: her godson, who supposedly is going to Stanford looks like he’s 30), forging degrees for her, pictures of Maya scaling mountains, and gives her a proficiency in Chinese and rowing. The resume gets Maya into a large marketing firm run by Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams) and a corner office. However, the Ivy Leaguers can smell when there’s an outsider. Maya is pushed to prove herself by launching a brand new skin care line that’s all natural, competing against Clarke’s daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens) and the snotty Ron (Freddie Stroma) who are manufacturing their own product.
Maya’s longtime boyfriend, Trey (Milo Ventimiglia), also wants to start a family with her. However, ever since Maya gave up her first child for adoption (unbeknownst to Trey), she’s not wanted another child, causing him to leave because of said “commitment issues.”
Maybe Second Act would be your typical low-rent Romantic Comedy if these plot points were handled delicately? It might even be good.
It’s not. It would be an insult to the honorably cliche to call Second Act cliche. There’s a general lack of effort. There are the obligatory montages of the New York skyline, while Lopez jogs in slow-motion, (I don’t think Sagal understands the purpose of slow-motion), while Remini — as the loud obnoxious friend — oversells an already out-sized role. Remini’s youngest son, different from one that looks 30-something, has an issue with dirty language that someone thought could make a funny reoccurring bit? My favorite scene is when Lopez makes a call on her cellphone, when the cellphone clearly isn’t on. The prop guy didn’t even have the decency to cut on the phone.
But most of all, weighing down the film is a convoluted story that should invite a script-burning party.
As Maya struggles to make a brand new product with an odds-and-ends team that includes, Charlyne Yi, Alan Aisenberg, and Annaleigh Ashford, she discovers that Zoe is the long-lost daughter she gave up years ago. The two spend the film bonding, partly through jogging, while Maya hides her phony professional background through multiple trials like, leading the company rowing competition or brokering a deal with a Chinese client (as if she’s the only Mandarin speaker in the entire firm). Maya also has second thoughts about the whole not having a family thing, a form of feminism that well…. doesn’t resemble any form of feminism. In fact, it’s a woman tethering her happiness to a man while subjugating herself to his desires.
Ultimately, Maya is forced to confront her lies. She loses just about everything, but does gain some new opportunities. And while Zoe does feel betrayed by her mother’s lies, they do reconcile. In fact, the film has the gall to directly rip the dialogue from Field of Dreams. When Kevin Costner meets his father’s ghost and asks, “You wanna have a catch” and his father says, “I’d like that.” Same lines, “jog” replaces “catch.” Even Jennifer Lopez, who’s charming throughout, can’t save this film. Just because they’ve built Second Act, doesn’t mean you have to come.