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Second Act is Second Rate

The saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” defines many scenarios in our lives.  But while we can think of many personal examples, the film “Second Act” demonstrates what it is to make a movie with this as its motto.  While self consciously charming, and strangely self aware, this dramedy combines plots A, B, and C in a story that cannot decide which plot is most important, and what its main point really is.


Jennifer Lopez stars in and produced “Second Act”, and she clearly had good intentions.  This is a story about a woman who works hard, puts in the years, and is still passed over for a promotion she so clearly deserves because she doesn’t have a college degree.  Her boyfriend, so excrutiatingly supportive of her career goals, also wants her to marry him and start a family, because those things are in no way incongruent.  They break up after she is hired by a large ad agency for a dream job in Manhattan that she didn’t actually apply for, with a resume made up for her by her best friend’s genius son.  And this is where the confusion begins, both for her and for us.


I suppose that this film could have another motto, which would be, “You can’t please everyone, all of the time”.  Our heroine, Maya, can’t please her boyfriend (played so ‘on the nose’ by Milo Ventimiglia), she can’t please her best friend (played by the hilarious Leah Remini), and most importantly, she can’t please herself.  When she realizes that her friend’s son has invented a new life for her online, she continues with the charade because she feels that she would never get another chance like that in her life.  And she’s right.  But her two greatest supporters, her best friend and her boyfriend think that she must tell the company the truth in order to be an ethical human being.  What?!  Fate apparently handed her this opportunity so that she could throw it all away by being honest.  (I’m only being a little sarcastic here).  While they support her ambitions, they don’t support her methods, and who can blame them, except for me?  Apparently, the take away is, ‘We’re all peasants here.  What are ya gonna do?’


Without giving too much away, Maya begins work at the company, and discovers a strong family connection that further binds her to the lie, in a way that any of us would be tempted to pursue.  As the story goes on, we learn more about a decision she made as a teen that she has always regretted – a decision that still shapes her life twenty years later.  But even then, we’re not sure where she really stands, and she is dragged further down into the whirlpool of lies.  Her indecision, while very relatable, makes for a murky plot and sputtering timing.


There is also a competition between two groups at work to see who can come up with a totally organic skin care product in three months.  Apparently, we’re supposed to care about this, but it’s hard to focus on anything but Maya’s current personal problems.  And so the story continues on as it must, and we learn who wins the competition.  But that’s not all folks!  We also have front row seats to Maya’s very public confession, and the very painful aftermath.  In true Hollywood fashion, one’s personal tragedies need to be played out on a stage, no matter how inappropriate or harmful.  And so begins the denouement, and the sappy ending where everyone gets what they want AND need.  Wow, so much like real life!  (Again with the sarcasm.)


So go to see it if you are in the mood for a sappy, just plain stupid, sometimes emotionally painful, and funny film.  It’s original story is marred by confusing plot changes, and the annoying need for everything to be okay in the end.




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Melody Stewart is the founder of act.land and President of iactingstudioskc.com. She is a filmmaker in Kansas City.