Second Act review: Jennifer Lopez's working woman sends mixed messages
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Second Act review: Jennifer Lopez's working woman sends mixed messages

SECOND ACT
M, 104 minutes

★★½

True to its title, Second Act appears to herald a new, "mature" phase in the career of its star Jennifer Lopez, now in her third decade of playing relatable everywomen with remarkably smooth skin.

Jennifer Lopez portrays a highly capable New Yorker working in retail.

Jennifer Lopez portrays a highly capable New Yorker working in retail.Credit:Roadshow

A chick flick but not a romantic comedy, this is the latest in a Hollywood cycle of films about women in the world of business, such as The Intern and The Boss.

In particular, it can be taken as a companion piece to the recent Amy Schumer vehicle I Feel Pretty, sharing its highly specific premise of an underdog propelled by circumstance to a high-ranking position in a family-owned beauty company, where she shakes things up by dropping truth bombs about what real women want.

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Leah Remini and Jennifer Lopez in Second Act.

Leah Remini and Jennifer Lopez in Second Act.Credit:Roadshow

Lopez's character is Maya, a highly capable New Yorker working in retail who misses out on her chance at a long-awaited promotion due to her lack of a college degree.

Frustrated and newly single, she reluctantly goes along with a scheme encouraged by her best friend (Leah Remini), whose computer whiz son (Dalton Harrod) supplies her with a set of fake qualifications, including special skills such as mountain climbing, rowing and the ability to speak Mandarin.

Thus armed, she's soon hired as a consultant by a manufacturer of skin care products, bluffing her way through awkward situations, but largely relying on her down-to-earth savvy to see her through.

Gradually, she's able to win over disbelievers, including a younger rival (Vanessa Hudgens) whose position as the boss' daughter has left her with some insecurities of her own.

Halfway through the tone shifts away from farce towards melodrama, through a series of revelations about Maya's past which shed a different light on her character, explaining, for instance, why she breaks up with her devoted boyfriend (Milo Ventimiglia) who has long been pleading with her to have kids.

The film remains a fairytale, much of it set around Christmas to maximise the number of scenes where Lopez is set against cosy, twinkling backdrops.

Still, director Peter Segal and his writers manage to incorporate a surprising range of elements into this glossy package, including a couple of dance routines, some impressively dirty jokes, a scene-stealing role for Charlyne Yi as a deceptively meek assistant, and a plot point that somehow links market research to the bombing of Hiroshima.

The film even has something to say, at least glancingly, about class prejudice in the real world, although in true Hollywood fashion the message is paradoxical.

On one level, it's implied that true success stems from being yourself rather than putting on an act. But without the principle of "fake it till you make it", how would Maya ever have got her foot in the door?

Jake Wilson was born in London and grew up in Melbourne. He got his start reviewing movies for various websites and has been writing for the Age since 2006.

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