Does 'Second Act's Big Twist Make or Break the Movie?
By Philiana Ng
Barry Wetcher/Motion Picture Artwork/STX
Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Second Act, because you will regret it.
Jennifer Lopez's new movie, Second Act, was touted as a simple romantic comedy about a woman who finds herself facing an innocent case of mistaken identity. But there's a big twist in the second half of the film that was deliberately avoided in the lead-up to its release (because duh, spoilers) that adds a completely different dimension to the story.
What you've been told about Second Act via the posters, trailers and various interviews is this: Lopez's character, Maya, takes a high-paying corner office job at a private New York City firm -- a major step up from her days spent working at a Value Shop -- after the co-founder is misled to believe she's an accomplished Harvard graduate from Wharton, who spent time in the Peace Corps among other extraordinary feats (all lies, by the way). When she's pitted against a young, driven exec, Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), to see whose idea -- an organic versus not-100-percent organic skincare line -- offers the best chance for company profit, that's enough plot and conflict for a typical movie like this. Not so here.
We begin to realize there may be more to the story than meets the eye when, in the early part of the movie, Maya's best friend, Joan (Lopez's real-life BFF Leah Remini, the highlight of the film), mentions "Sara," a mysterious woman from Maya's past, during a heart-to-heart at the dinner table and Maya bristles at the thought of starting a family with her longtime beau, Trey (a mustachioed Milo Ventimiglia). He wants kids, she's not so interested. Clearly something happened to this "Sara." Was she Maya's sister? Was she Maya's daughter? Did she die? What happened to her?
Everything starts coming together when it's revealed "Sara" is the daughter Maya gave up for adoption when she was 17 years old, and voila, her long-lost child is Zoe. Talk about a game-changer. Maya realizes this shocking truth when she visits Zoe at her father's apartment to gather some old research, only to discover that Zoe's late mother was blonde."I was adopted," Zoe reveals, answering the question of how two light-haired parents could birth a daughter with dark hair and features. The moment of realization that she's been competing against her ownfamily culminates in an emotional scene for Maya, and the two -- who started off as adversaries -- become fast confidantes. Because, you know, blood is thicker than water.
What's even more stunning is the fact that Zoe's adoptive dad (Treat Williams) was doing some secret sleuthing on the side to track down Zoe's birth mother after she gave up finding her. Apparently, he knew who Maya was when he brought her in for that job interview -- via the fake resume/persona -- and was really sussing her out to make sure she wasn't a lunatic. She clearly passed with flying colors, so much so that the trio decide to keep their family secret from everyone else at the company, and land Maya a permanent position. But there's that little wrinkle of her Harvard lie.
Things reach a climactic point on the less interesting part of Maya's ruse at a public, Apple-like presentation, where Maya is tasked with unveiling her winning, 100-percent organic all-in-one skincare product to the entire world. (It's somehow streaming and broadcast everywhere; we're talking phones, every TV channel in the nation, etc.) And just when she's about to be outed by a fellow exec with an agenda, she comes clean to everyone, damaging her relationship with her daughter once more. A year passes where Maya and Zoe don't talk, but it's a rom-com, so only happy endings exist, and they reconcile in the end. Whew. (If you were wondering what happened with Maya and Trey, they break up, he later finds out -- from Joan, of all people -- about Maya's secret daughter and they resolve their issues and get back together.)
Truthfully, we really should have seen the J.Lo-Hudgens mother-daughter twist coming from a mile away. When the idea was introduced that Lopez's character was a teen mom, that should've been enough of a clue that Hudgens would be playing her estranged daughter. They look enough alike and she's essentially the perfect age to pull off being J.Lo's grown-up daughter. Plus, adding a level of depth like an unexpected family reunion tugs at the heartstrings -- and just in time for the feel-good holiday season.
There's a ton to unpack in this movie; at times, it feels like several films mashed up into one. But if you're into rom-coms, want some laughs (Remini's memorable one-liners are a true highlight) and eye candy (see: Ventimiglia's blink-and-you'll-miss-him moments -- OK we're exaggerating, but it was obvious how little he was able to work due to This Is Us), you can't go wrong with Second Act.