[Screen It]

"SECOND ACT"
(2018) (Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A woman continues to live a lie she didn't create in order to keep her dream job, all while contending with a revelation about one of her coworkers.
PLOT:
Maya Vargas (JENNIFER LOPEZ) has worked the past six years as the assistant manager at a big box store and knows everything about the products they sell and related sales patterns. Yet she's passed over for a promotion due to being a woman and only having a GED for her education. To make matters worse, her live-in boyfriend, Trey (MILO VENTIMIGLIA), has just dumped her since she doesn't want to have kids.

Accordingly, she moves in with her best friend, Joan (LEAH REMINI), and contemplates her next job option. That seems to fall in her lap when she gets an interview with a top Manhattan consumer goods firm where the CEO, Anderson Clarke (TREAT WILLIAMS), is impressed by her education and work and volunteer experience.

She realizes something is amiss but doesn't mention it's wrong (even when she later learns Joan's teenage son created a fake but impressive education/business/volunteer profile for her)and thus is given a job as a consultant due to knowing her stuff about the industry. That's much to the chagrin of one of the vice presidents there, Zoe (VANESSA HUDGENS), who just so happens to be Anderson's daughter. She and another executive there, Ron (FREDDIE STROMA), who questions Maya's credentials, end up competing against Maya in turning a product line around.

While Zoe and Ron plan to simply retool an existing product line and make it slightly more organic, Maya and her new team -- that consists of reluctant Hildy (ANNALEIGH ASHFORD), nerdy acrophobe Ariana (CHARLYNE YI) and third-string chemist Chase (ALAN AISENBERG) -- opt to make something that's completely organic. As they do so, Maya is startled by a revelation about one of her coworkers, all as she continues living her business lie where the truth might be discovered at any moment.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Back before screenwriting courses, contests and support groups proliferated with the arrival of the Internet, those of us wishing to enter that world had limited resources available to us. Sure, the introduction of VCRs allowed for repeated viewings, pauses, and rewinds to study the final product of screenwriters who came before us. And some -- but not many -- scripts could be purchased for similar studies. Otherwise, one was limited to film school (not in my cards at the time) or attending multi-day classes whenever they'd show up in town.

At one such event (and before I entered the world of being a movie reviewer), I distinctly recall the instructor commenting on the difference between film critics and movie studios when it came to screenplays. The former wanted something new or at least a fresh spin on what had already been done, while the latter desired nothing more than doing the same of something that had already worked -- and made money.

Of course, since the goal of being a screenwriter is to sell your goods and hope they'll make it up on the screen, a lot of people who attend such classes realize they need to lean more toward pleasing Hollywood decision makers rather than critics, thus leaving those of us in that group having to sit through slightly varied offerings of stories and characters we've seen countless times before.

That's exactly how I felt watching "Second Act," a movie being billed as a romantic comedy whereas it's really more of a dramedy with some romance occasionally thrown in. That said, and not remotely knowing if what we see is what scribes Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Justin Zackham initially wrote or was tinkered with by who knows how many people, it follows the rom-com formula to a T, albeit with one twist for the involved characters.

In this one hundred or so minute offering directed by Peter Segal, Jennifer Lopez plays a late thirties to early forties woman who gets passed over for a promotion at work due to 1) being a woman and 2) only having a GED rather than an MBA. To make matters worse, her live-in boyfriend (Milo Ventimiglia) wants to have kids and she doesn't, what with having some related secret from her past that she can't dredge up the courage to tell him.

And then the teenage son of her best friend (Leah Remini) decides, without her permission or knowledge, to create a faked online version of her, arranges a surprise job interview for her at a prestigious firm, and then lets the chips fall where they may.

Maya ends up taking the consulting gig at the high-end consumer goods firm run by Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams) where one of the vice presidents (Vanessa Hudgens) clashes with this new outsider and is then revealed to be his daughter. Nonetheless, Maya can walk the walk and talk the talk and thus gets set up in a competition where her totally organic product will be pitted against her rival's slightly retrofitted one. And to make that happen, our protagonist gets help from a reluctant coworker (Annaleigh Ashford), a mousey acrophobe (Charlyne Yi) and a third or fourth string chemist (Alan Aisenberg) best associated with working on cat food.

As all of that occurs, the aforementioned twist drops on unsuspecting viewers (although I imagine some will have figured it out before it arrives based on some not so subtle clues). I can't really go into that without giving away a really big spoiler (albeit a clumsily handled clunker), but suffice it to say, the two main characters meet, initially clash, and then form a bond. But the lie that one is living is eventually revealed, thus leading to -- yes, you guessed it -- a split between them until they're finally reunited right before the end credits start scrolling.

Throw in the rough-around-the-edges best friend who's critical but supportive; a set of lesser friends who get less screen time but show up for some comic relief (including in a sing-along scene); nerdy coworkers who fall in love with each other; another coworker who wants to undermine the protagonist by figuring out the truth and outing her; and a young kid with a foul mouth and you might just come to the realization that you've seen all of those elements before in other films. Some of which made decent box office bucks.

If you're a Hollywood exec, that might smell like imitation catnip. And if you're a regular viewer who doesn't mind repetition, that might sound entertaining. But if you're a reviewer who's seen it all and then some, that might sound like torture or at least the need to invest in some eye drops for all of the eye-rolling that's about to commence as each element arrives on cue.

I certainly didn't hate what's presented, and J-Lo is as watchable as always. But I couldn't escape the feeling that I had seen everything before, and more than once. So much so that I doubt this screenplay will be taught in future screenwriting classes. I do wish that the second and third acts of "Second Act" did something more novel with the all-too-familiar elements that things didn't feel so forced, but even the big twist on the rom-com formula isn't enough to encourage me to give any higher of a score than a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed December 19, 2018 / Posted December 21, 2018


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