Second Act earned a certain amount of respect from me, but that had more to do with film history and marketing choices than the quality of the movie itself. Although the promotional material sold the film as a comedy about class differences, there are plot twists that quickly veer the narrative into more melodramatic territory. And I don’t use the word melodrama as an insult, but rather as the genre which was popularized in the 1940s, primarily dealing with stories of motherly love and loss. Sadly, Second Act is the rare exception of a film that doesn’t spoil these reveals in the trailers.
There are certainly benefits to allowing the audience the privilege of experiencing the narrative as it unfolds, but there are some who might feel cheated by the marketing. On the other hand, just because the film adds drama that isn’t seen in the trailer doesn’t mean that the comedy is missing. Unfortunately, the comedy is every bit as awful as the trailers make it seem, mostly just cramming slapstick gags and dark humor in places that they don’t fit. The film feels as though it is trying to please too many different tastes, and ends up a muddled mess because of it. While some of the melodrama works, the comedy nearly always fails, and the social message sold by the trailer gets completely lost halfway through.
That social message of the movie begins as a commentary on the injustice of opportunities provided to those wealthy enough to afford higher education versus those with practical life experience. Maya (Jennifer Lopez) is a 40-year-old employee of a grocery store, turned down for a management position despite her years of service and experience with the company. The manager hired (Dan Bucatinsky) has a business degree without any experience in the store, so the film goes out of its way to make him seem like the enemy. Even worse, Maya is seen as heroic as she disrespects her new boss simply because she doesn’t agree with him or the decision to hire him. In reality, Maya’s behavior is fowl, regardless of whether she is deserving of the raise or not.
But the one thing this film doesn’t do (along with following through on the social commentary) is punish bad behavior. In fact, it is nearly always rewarded. Although Maya is forced to quit her job at the grocery store, she is rewarded with a fancy new job after lying on her resume about her education, experience, and basic abilities. In most movies, this would be an opportunity for humor as the protagonist attempts to hide the truth, until eventually facing the consequences of their deception. But in Second Act, the mistakes and bad behavior is mostly just rewarded, even to the point that a presentation ending in the death of a dozen doves still results in a sale.
Part of the problem seems to be a disconnection that the jokes have from the drama of the movie. It feels as though the humor belongs in a completely different film, and that is a film I don’t want to see. None of the jokes work when Lopez is trying to make them land, whether it is physical humor, facial reactions, or deliver of clever lines (which are sparse, to be fair). While Lopez struggles to make even the halfway decent jokes mildly amusing, there are several supporting actors who have a much easier time, in particular Leah Remini as the loud-mouthed best friend and Alan Aisenberg in a musical-free performance.
The Blu-ray release of Second Act comes with a DVD and a digital copy of the film, along with the extras on the disc itself. There are four promotional featurettes, though they don’t provide any real insight into the production. Most are very short and work at promoting the film’s stars more than the film itself.
Entertainment Value: 5.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Special Features: 3.5/10