By Kurt Jensen
NEW YORK (CNS) — The appealing workplace comedy “Second Act” (STX) which posits that street smarts should rate at least as highly as an educational pedigree, is not so much #Metoo as #Whynotme.
Director Peter Segal and screenwriters Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas have turned the plucky old formula sideways. As a result, their heroine, Maya (Jennifer Lopez), is not facing predations such as sexual harassment or a phalanx of poisonous, scheming co-workers, but rather dealing with crises rooted in self-confidence and her difficult past.
Maya is an imaginative assistant manager at a big-box store in Queens. She has a deft touch when it comes to knowing how women actually decide to purchase cosmetics and skin-care products.
But she’s held back by her lack of formal education. She only has a GED, and, stuck in her job at age 40, is passed over for the promotion she wants by an uncaring corporate management which only sees her as an able “lieutenant.”
She has a caring boyfriend in Trey (Milo Ventimiglia), a college baseball coach. Unexpected professional support comes in the form of Dilly (Dalton Harrod), the college-student son of Maya’s best friend, Joan (Leah Remini), who is also Maya’s godson.
He’s a social media whiz who, entirely on his own initiative, invents a new resume for Maya, which includes a Harvard degree and a stint in the Peace Corps, as well as a new Facebook presence for her.
Maya doesn’t learn of this until she gets an interview offer from a Manhattan cosmetics firm headed by Anderson (Treat Williams). This sends her into the land of glass office towers on Madison Avenue, costly new power wardrobes and lush expense accounts.
Anderson has installed his daughter, Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), as an executive, and at first, she and Maya are bitter interoffice rivals. Their vying intensifies when Anderson sets them up on competing teams to produce a new organic skin-care line.
For a long time, no one tries to pry too deeply into Maya’s tricked-up CV, but she holds some other deep secrets, too. These include having been a single mother who gave birth to a daughter at 17 and later put the girl up for adoption.
Deceptions pile up, as the plot formula dictates, until everyone finds ways to reveal their own truths, gain emotional release and make their lives better as a result.
There are no elements strictly precluding mature adolescents as an audience, although “Second Act” is clearly aimed at mature women who might find inspiration in Maya’s journey.
The film contains references to sexual activity and an out-of-wedlock birth and some crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.