Within the first few seconds of Second Act, premiering Friday, December 21, you know whether the just-in-time-for-the-holidays movie is for you. It begins with star/producer Jennifer Lopez in sleek athletic wear running through the working class streets of New York. If the likes of 2001's The Wedding Planner and 2002's history-making Maid In Manhattan hold a special place in your heart, very few opening visuals are more moving.
While the glittering skyline of Manhattan’s big businesses looms in the background, Lopez’s Maya — legal name Maria, this detail will be important later — looks comfortable, beautiful, and powerful in her outer borough Queens neighborhood. Yet, because this is a J.Lo rom-com, you know there are bigger things in store for Maya than merely jogging past her local deli.
That is the heart of Second Act: the promise that where you come from can’t limit your potential. It’s a heart-warming idea that fits right in with the aforementioned early aughts Lopez rom-com canon. If only the superstar’s latest addition to her leading lady resume didn’t throw out so much plot to get to the point.
Second Act isn’t exactly the movie its trailer promises it will be. At first glance, the Lopez vehicle seems to be a comedy about a grocery store worker stumbling her way into a high-powered gig at a fancy company. This is technically true, since Maya’s tech whiz godson Dilly (Dalton Harrod), son of Maya’s real-talk spouting best friend Joan (Leah Remini, Lopez's IRL bestie), crafts her a wildly impressive fake life to help the degree-less 40-something get a new job. Dilly’s work is so good, he even photoshops Facebook pictures of “Harvard grad” Maya with Barack and Michelle Obama (the images are actually real photos of Lopez with the former first couple at a 2008 inauguration ball). Because Dilly’s work uses Maya’s legal name, Maria Vargas, the teen convinces her this isn’t a crime.
This detail is the first in a number of confounding narrative twists Second Act employs. Countless more follow when Maya, a six-year assistant manager a local grocery store, gets a call from fictional beauty megaconflomerate Franklin & Clarke. The company is led by current Clarke patriarch Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams). Now that Maya's successful fake persona is on the net, Anderson wants her to consult at his multibillion dollar family company, no matter how much his daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), an F&C vice president herself, doesn’t like it.
Soon enough Maya is embroiled in three separate dramas: one involving her honest boyfriend Trey (This Is Us’ Milo Ventigmilia, just playing Jack Pearson, mustache included) who doesn’t like Maya’s subterfuge, another centered around a guilt-ridden secret from Maya’s past, and a third where Maya attempts to keep up appearances amid a tense F&C competition. Viewers are made to worry about organic skincare, the perils of career fraud, proper adoption protocol, the intricacies of the New York City subway system, rowing, a slightly wonky timeline, and a ginkgo tree, among other spinning plates. Christmas vibes even pop up by the end.
But, here’s my advice. As soon as you start getting wrapped up in how Hudgens’ 20-something-year-old Zoe could have left school to join her father’s company as a vice president of anything in just a few years… don’t. Don’t sweat the small stuff. All of the bumps in Maya’s life are distractions from the joy of seeing Jennifer Lopez, one of our most charming celebrities, triumph, all while making us laugh and wearing impeccable clothing. Pay attention to all of the hoops Maya sports over Second Act’s hour-and-40-minute runtime. There are thick hoops for interviews, thin hoops for Important First Days, and big old hoops for presentations, with so many other hoops in between, courtesy of costume design from Sex And The City fashion magicians Patricia Fields and Molly Rogers.
When you’re not enjoying Second Act's parade of jealousy-inducing fashion, soak in all the chemistry vibrating between the cast. Not only are best friends Lopez and Leah Remini a joy to see on screen — especially when Remini dares to repeatedly slap a true megastar like J.Lo, something only a beloved old friend could get away with — but so are other pairings like Charlyne Yi’s surprisingly kinky comic relief Ariana and the very game Chase (Orange Is The New Black’s Alan Aisenberg). Maya’s laugh out loud funny friends Suzi (Lacretta) and Ant (Dierdre Friel), who are both curvy and unique in their own ways, even help to ground the film by filling Second Act with characters who actually look like real-life women.
It’s a breath of fresh air — and that's all I’ve ever wanted from a Jennifer Lopez movie. Well, that and the desire to steal a coat off of J.Lo's body, which Second Act offers in spades.