Not everyone needs a second chance

#SGWatch4U is our screen review column where we tackle anything from film to TV/Netflix.

Some legends can do no wrong. Jennifer Lopez is one such untouchable goddess; unfortunately, even she has met her defeat in her newest film Second Act. What could have been a fun, light-hearted watch signaling new beginnings in the New Year ended up overcomplicated by cliches and a thin plot that even its all-star cast couldn’t save.

Lopez’s story as supermarket sales staff Maya Vargas starts off with an all-too-familiar boobs-to-brilliance narrative, a la Elle Woods of Legally Blonde. She’s a hard worker with good ideas, whose only downfall was not completing high school. Unable to rise vocationally above the hand she’s been dealt, she’s denied a promotion that ends up going to an Ivy League nerd with no on-the-ground experience. After seeing her crushed, her friends invent an impressive resume that somehow gets her through the door of a major pharmaceutical company.

Leah Remini and Jennifer Lopez play best friends in the film

Heaping on the cliches with fervor, Director Peter Segal treads a fine line between ironic genius and hopelessly outdated. The first act is tolerable, fun even, constructed of girl power cliquey scenes, triumphant ball-busting, and the inevitable makeover. Vargas lands the job of Consultant and sets off on a path to prove you don’t need a degree from Harvard to do a job well. Fine and dandy; the classic thrill of watching an underdog blossom let us close one eye to some of the overused gags—like Vargas exiting her old job in slow-mo only to trip and fall flat on her face.

But all this quickly spirals into a hot mess. Our lead finds herself head-to-head with the boss’s daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens, surprisingly still in business after Netflix’s The Princess Switch); the two are put to a friendly competition to see who can come up with the most profitable way to make the company greener. A couple of amusing scenes in the office later, there’s a twist—which anyone can see coming from a mile away. Through a set of sluggish, poorly linked shoe drops, it’s revealed that Vargas’s “second act” has less to do with her career and more about making amends with her regrettable personal history.

Here on out, the movie completely loses control of its narrative, as if it can’t decide whether to award the office competition or the “twist” more screen time. Poor Milo Ventimiglia, in his significant supporting role, too is reduced to a cliche—the baseball-coaching, unsupportive prick of a boyfriend, whose sole purpose in the rest of the movie is to make Vargas feel bad about her choices. A series of flimsy betrayals and confrontations tries to forcefully wring tears out of your eyes; but to no avail.

Jennifer Lopez and her merry gang of corporate misfits

The only saving grace is J Lo’s impeccably contoured cheeks, bronzed to a T even after she’s tipped an entire boat of colleagues into the river and come out soaking wet. (Granted, it’s one of the more memorably funny scenes in the film.) The triple threat may be pushing 50, but looks nothing like it, and charms effortlessly in every poorly scripted scene. Whoever did her makeup—we’ll want a list of products used, stat.

Second Act is at first glance founded on addressing social issues like class discrimination and feminism; but trying isn’t the same as succeeding. Its attempt at a feminist stance is undercut by one-dimensional stereotypes and even worse acting—Vargas’s male superior at the supermarket is patronising and tacky, role-playing King Arthur in his team-bonding activities and later wishing her luck in finding a job as “a woman your age”. Even more distasteful, the movie doesn’t make efforts to ever deepen the conversation—particularly after the “twist” that shifts it in a completely different direction.

Garbled and lost in its own message, it’s the kind of movie you’ll regret watching even on Netflix. Jenny from the Block did not fight her own real-life battles and climb to where she is today to deserve this. It really is the second act no one needed.

Second Act is showing in Golden Village Cinemas from Jan 3.