Anyone want a pretty package of rom-com fluff for the holidays? You won’t hear shout-outs to Second Act on late-breaking Top 10 lists, but this sweet and sassy confection, directed by Peter Segal (Grudge Match), delivers miles of smiles tied up in a bow. You wouldn’t be wrong if you’re thinking this wish-fulfillment tale of a working-class woman bum-rushing the corporate world is trying to be a Working Girl for millennials. And while it can’t deliver the boundary-pushing kick of that seminal 1988 Melanie Griffith-vs.-the glass ceiling smash, the charms this movie does possess — its star being chief among them — will get you over the gaping plot holes and lackluster dialogue.
Jennifer Lopez, that ever-watchable Latina live-wire from the Bronx, stars as Maya Vargas, an outer-borougher with ambitions who’s stuck as an assistant manager at a Queens Value Shop. She’s had it up to here with being passed over for promotions because she doesn’t have the college degree that moves a series of white-dude nitwits into a bigger office with bigger pay.
The game-changer is a big fat lie. Without Maya’s knowledge, her computer-nerd godchild Dilly (Dalton Harrod), the son of her best friend Joan (a hilarious Leah Remini), concocts a fake resumé and social-media profile. Suddenly, she’s a graduate of Wharton and Harvard, who crewed for the boating team, learned to speak flawless Mandarin and did a character-building stint in the Peace Corps. Naturally, these pretend skills will jump up to bite Maya in the ass when she’s hired to develop an organic skin product at a Manhattan-based company, where the big boss (Treat Williams, slumming in style), is eager to show off his new employee’s virtuosity. He even pits her against his top cosmetics exec, Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), who happens to be the dude’s daughter. It all comes down to class warfare between over-educated snobs and Jenny from the Block.
Credit the otherwise bland script by Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas for tweaking the formula just enough to let us know we’re in a new century. Maya doesn’t even think of slowing her career ascendancy for Trey (Milo Ventimiglia from This Is Us), the baseball-coach boyfriend who wants to marry her and have kids. She struggles with it … for a moment. (Thankfully, we’re long past the point of men telling women they can’t have it all.) And Second Act damn near drowns in soap bubbles when Maya discovers the daughter she gave up for adoption years ago. But the movie and Lopez regain their comic footing once they learn to let this workplace comedy settle into its enjoyable escapist groove. And when the noise and contrivances get too much, just watch J-Lo. Sometimes star presence is its own reward.