Released: 6th December
Seen: 18th December
There is something in a comedy that is more valuable than the script will ever be, an element that a lot of films seem to forget. It’s the chemistry in the cast. A good cast with great chemistry can make absolutely any film work, while a bad cast couldn’t make a Marx Brother’s routine funny. It’s more important than anything else that the cast is able to make a scene feel funny and charming, even when the jokes aren’t exactly the best thing ever… my god, this might be one of the most delightfully charming casts that I’ve ever had the joy of seeing on film.
Second Act is built around an idea that a lot of people nowadays have to deal with, namely the idea of trying to get up in the workforce if you don’t have the right education due to your spot on the socio-economic ladder. If you, say, dropped out of high school and didn’t get a diploma but you worked your ass off for 15 years getting to assistant manager at Value Mart, you might be a little bit miffed that instead of giving you the manager job, they hand it to some guy who graduated from a fancy college who doesn’t know anything about the company he works for, but he had enough money to buy an education. That’s what happens to Maya Vargas (Played by Jennifer Lopez) and when she loses out on the job of manager, her friend Joan’s (Played by Leah Remini) nephew decides to try to help by creating a fake resume and getting Maya in the door at F&G who hire her for a consulting job on their new skincare line… so, just how long can Maya keep the job before everyone realises she’s just a… well, a flashy girl from Flushing.
The thing that makes this movie soar is that cast. Jennifer Lopez carries the movie with grace but isn’t afraid to really go for the quick and sharp physical comedy when it’s needed. She bounced off of Leah Remini like they’ve been doing this for years (And they have, the two have been friends in real life for a fair while and that natural chemistry shines with every single scene). The best comedic moments of the film happen when those two share a screen and are just talking, either about family or about credit cards or just about why Leah’s son keeps swearing all the time (He has Leah Remini as a mother… I’m a giant Leah fan partially because she has no filter and this film uses that). There’s also a generally great supporting cast, Milo Ventimiglia as Maya’s boyfriend is a treat, Jennifer Hudgens as Zoe gives the film some much-needed conflict and Charlyne Yi and Alan Aisenberg bolster the movie with a cute mini-rom-com of their own that works well as a side story and also makes the world feel more full.
There are some jokes in the movie that do feel a bit off, either in how they were written or in subject matter but the cast does a job of making them either work or making them easy to get over, including one joke that is a bit touchy but… they handle it well enough that it’s hard to get mad about it. I do wonder if the film is going for slapstick comedy of just a casual comedy of verbal back and forth. Some of the best comedy moments come from Maya being thrown into a situation she shouldn’t be in and trying to cover, such as the genuinely funny scene where she’s tasked with speaking mandarin and so she gets an earpiece and a Chinese vet translates for her. Scenes like that are genuinely hilarious… the scene of her doing a slow-motion walk out before falling over, less funny but Jennifer absolutely commits to them which helps a lot.
There’s a sense of commitment here that really helps make so much of this film work, even when jokes don’t land quite right or scenes feel like we’ve seen them before, there’s a genuine charm that the cast brings that make it still work. Yeah, I’ve seen the “You lied to get the thing” story a couple hundred times, but something about this cast doing it makes it work. I’ve seen the “Tired single woman gets a fancy job through deception” plot, but here it still works because we have a cast who can make the jokes work. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit some parts of the film did lose my interest, right around the third act is when my mind went on a little walk, but it came right back relatively quickly because they found another way to charm with a pretty good ending that was… well, a little rushed admittedly but it still worked.
This film might not be the greatest film, and it might not be for everyone, but it’s pretty damn good. It’s a solid hour and a half comedy with a predominantly female cast who get some great belly laughs and tell an engaging story. I don’t ask much of a film, I want it to entertain me and this one definitely did that.