By: Larissa Couto
Love, family, and a career: that’s all one could ask for. Despite having her girlfriends as her family and a lovely boyfriend, Maya wants more: to show the business world that she can be as good as anyone with an MBA at her job, even if she doesn’t have the required qualifications. Second Act is not a fully impostor rom-com, but a tentative of a late “coming of age” movie with a somewhat charismatic cast. Jennifer Lopez’s character, Maya, is a regular woman working at a grocery store; she’s full of ideas and all the talent for business that 15 years walking among aisles and talking to customers could give her. Her dream job is at a company called Franklin & Clarke and, with a little help, she makes up a tiny lie that gets her the job. After this simple (and unoriginal) introduction, we see Maya trying to understand who she is while faking having friends from Harvard, speaking Mandarin, and other comedy moments. The main theme, though, is Maya’s self-discovery of who she wants to be.
While Maya tries to understand who she is, her new life seems like a dream. The contrasts between “street smarts” and “book smarts,” rich and poor, and “city” and Queens don’t shape the story; but at the same time they don’t allow Lopez’s character to be sympathetic to the audience. In this “coming of age” story, Maya suffers the consequences of always following what others tell her to do—or simply living for an instant of success, even if ephemeral. As a friendship movie, Second Act fails to develop a deep bond between characters. Lopez is not a horrible actress, and she’s always nice when playing a woman who hustles, but she isn’t exactly a woman we all can connect with. At her best, Lopez is the singer and dancer we all know. Even charismatic actors and actresses like Leah Remini, Lacretta, Milo Ventimiglia, and Treat Williams don’t have enough screen time to make the film part of the heartwarming friendship genre.
If the first half of Second Act has some funny moments, the second part is too sloppy. After a plot twist, Maya’s lies begin to be uncovered and Vanessa Hughes’s character turns from enemy to best friend. Weirdly, the movie doesn’t succeed in the emotional exploration of the plot. Instead of making Maya shine, with her background story and her reasons to live a lie that haunted her for so long, everything is quickly digested and back to normal for Maya. At the end, Maya confronts all her lies but, instead of becoming stronger (and wiser), the film doesn’t have time to turn Maya into something other than what we saw at the beginning. As a “coming of age” film, Second Act fails.
All the events we see Maya living are quickly dissolved and turned into a happy ending—that we’re supposed to understand as something Maya deserves. Not an impostor rom-com (with the plot not being completely about the happenings of Maya pretending to be who she isn’t) and not a comedy (considering Lopez’s lack of comedy acting skills), Second Act doesn’t check enough boxes—other than the old idea of a “women’s movie.” Maya’s a woman struggling being a woman in a world not built for her. However, in 2018, this is not enough to deliver a good story. Womanhood is a plural concept, and Maya needed more acts to let her story be told satisfactorily. In the end, Maya affirms that we’re the ones who limit ourselves from doing and being who we want to be—if only the consequences of our actions came as soft as Maya’s.