Lots of heart and humour help the workplace comedy push through its many storylines
Photos: Golden Village Pictures / STX Entertainment
It’s been 16 years since Jennifer Lopez brought out the hopeless romantic within us in Maid in Manhattan, as a maid who gets mistaken for a wealthy guest at the luxury Manhattan hotel she actually works at. Now, six years after her last romantic comedy, Second Act marks her comeback to the genre with a nod to the movie that solidified Lopez’s status as a rom-com sweetheart throughout the 2000s.
The comparisons between Second Act and Maid in Manhattan aren’t too subtle, given that the new movie is marketed as Maid in Manhattan meets Working Girl. In another rags-to-riches tale, Maya (played by Lopez), an employee at a discount store who didn’t go to college, gets hired by a beauty and cosmetics giant, Franklin & Clarke. A case of mistaken identity also occurs as her new employers think she’s a sales expert who’s graduated from Harvard and Wharton Business School, as well as served in the Peace Corps.
Granted, Maya knows the consumer market well after spending 15 years at the discount store and radically boosting their profits. So when she’s passed over for promotion, and a guy with an MBA gets it, Maya is rightly pissed. So is every one of her friends. On her 40th birthday, her best friend Joan’s computer genius of a son cooked up the fake résumé with social media profiles to boot, and Maya became Maria, Franklin & Clarke’s newest beauty consultant.
The first half of the movie is a solemn and empowering fight to break down class and education barriers that hinder a person from going far in their career. Maya’s shrewd analysis of consumers’ needs and wants reminds us that it’s not the made-up credentials, but her real skills and experience that truly help her land and keep her fancy new job. This message that your grades don’t define your intelligence may sound trite, but if you try to recall some, we don’t have enough stories in popular media reminding us of it.
We at Singapore know very well what it’s like to live in a grades-obsessed society. At a time when MOE is working to modify our primary school system to focus less on academic development, a movie like Second Act could not feel more relevant and needed.
As we root for Maya to wow everyone at her new job – on her first day, she’s immediately challenged to create a whole new organic beauty line to prove her ideas for the company are doable – it’s also refreshing to see that she still remains Maya. Jennifer Lopez dazzles and commands every room, and with her immense fame now, it should be hard to imagine her as a working class woman. But Maya never once forgets who she really is, nor who her friends really are.
Much credit for making Maya feel real throughout the movie goes to the genuine wit and humour of the writing. The shenanigans Maya gets caught up in to live up to her impressive faked credentials are laugh-out-loud hilarious and doesn’t try to overdo the mistaken-identity trope. Maya’s group of friends, especially Leah Remini as her forever-cursing BFF Joan, also keep us entertained.
Second Act puts together a diverse and talented supporting cast alongside Lopez. In trying to flesh out several of the supporting characters, however, the movie shifts away from the focused theme of career and empowerment, and towards a whirlpool of family and romantic drama.
There’s the almost fairytale-like reveal that links Lopez’s and Vanessa Hudgens’ characters, and would be better placed at the centre of a different movie. Hudgens really shows her acting chops as Zoe, the daughter of Maya’s new boss who also heads their beauty department. Hudgens delicately balances being a formidable businesswoman we wouldn’t dare to cross, and a caring daughter who develops a bond with Maya, a bond that we later learn goes beyond friendship. The two actresses bounce off each other so well in their scenes together, and their subplot adds much to the movie’s overall heartfelt tone. But it’s a subplot that diverges completely from the street-smarts-over-book-smarts narrative Second Act was building in the first half.
Though out of place, the Maya-Zoe subplot still touched our hearts. The truly unnecessary subplot we would rather have taken out was that between Maya and her boyfriend Trey, played by Milo Ventimiglia. For starters, Lopez and Ventimiglia have little chemistry. Their conflict over whether they should start a family together feels so much like the writers squeezing in a customary romantic arc for Maya, that it runs counter to the movie’s main message about female empowerment.
In the end, we don’t get an intellectually stimulating attack on class and education discrimination at the workplace. Through Lopez’s earnest charm, all the jokes and slapstick comedy, Second Act gives us a celebration of an underdog who working her way up in a industry many of us are familiar with – sales. And that’s the charm of the movie. Sometimes we need a silly comedy movie that inspires and makes us laugh. For all the ladies feeling bogged down at your own workplace, make it a girls’ night out to unwind and catch this relatable and feel-good comedy – it might inspire you to reinvent yourself this new year.
Second Act is currently showing in cinemas islandwide, including Golden Village cinemas.