Is “Second Act” the second coming of J.Lo? + interview with Leah Remini

I’m not even going to attempt to sugarcoat it. This movie is… a lot. Some might even say it’s got everything. Let’s dive in, shall we? It’s a chick flick/romance/comedy with themes of woman empowerment, family ties, and the struggle between being ‘book smart’ and ‘street smart’. Of course it’s even topped with a power anthem sung by Jenny from the block herself.  Oh, and it’s also a Christmas movie.

Like I said, it’s a lot.

The premise seems simple at first glance – Maya (J.Lo) has been working at Value Shop for the last 15 years – five of those as assistant manager – and is certain that she had this promotion in the bag. Why shouldn’t she? The start of the movie shows us how exceptional she is at her job. We see the real difference she’s made in the shop and you can see how passionate she is.

So when she is overlooked for the role in favour of a man with an MBA (played by the brilliant Dan Bucatinsky from Scandal), she is devastated. I mean, I would be too to be honest.

Enter her godson Dilly – a tech whizz from Stanford. He fakes her CV, creates an all new persona for her online (which made for some of the films funniest scenes) and before you know it, our heroine finds herself landing a job as a consultant at a massive beauty and cosmetics company (which gave me major flashbacks to I Feel Pretty, by the way. Why are films so obsessed with creating strong women characters and onlymaking them powerful in what is perceived as woman-dominated industries only? Just once I’d like to see a boss as lead in an Engineering firm). Anyway, back to the story – so she’s in over her head, of course, and no matter how bad the script got, I still find myself rooting for her to succeed.

There’s a twist of course – one that was unexpected and a bit darker than the trailer lets on. But once the secret was out though, the events following that became predictable and eye-rollingly clichéd. I also found the subplots were badly done. There was no chemistry between the secondary romantic pairing in the film. We see it develop from the very beginning but I feel as though it was gratuitous to the story and we could have done without that.

Instead of wasting precious screentime on a half-cooked romance, the film could have explored sexism and racism in the workplace – real issues that plague females and very much at the forefront of conversation in today’s current climate. It could have addressed that given both female leads are women of colour – J.Lo is Puerto Rican and Vanessa Hudgens is Filipino/American. In the film they play successful women in the workforce and in leadership roles. It feels like a missed opportunity not to at least explore this a little bit because their characters in the film – Maya and Zoe – are women in positions of power and leadership. It’s disappointing that the writers did not include one of the most interesting and exciting aspects of their characters in the script.

But not all hope is lost. The fashion is to die for. Jennifer Lopez looks sensational as usual and as a beauty junkie I did the scenes where they showed all these skincare products. That was heaven. The eye candy is strong on this one with Milo Ventimiglia playing Maya’s boyfriend, Trey.

And even though the “sassy and cool” BFF is so overdone in movies it almost becomes comical when you see yet another chick flick/romcom attempt this narrative, I still enjoyed Leah Remini’s take on this character as Joan, Maya’s best friend.

This movie is worth a watch if you want something “feel good” and holiday-ish, the perfect film to de-stress and tune out to during this hectic holiday season. At least we can always count on Leah Remini to make us laugh.

Plus we had a chat with Leah Remini! 

Q: Hi Leah. There is a wonderful message in Second Act. Can you talk about it?

A: The message is about being yourself – your authentic self – and finding that belief in your authentic self and believing yourself and surrounding yourself with those who prop you up to achieve the things you want to achieve in your life.

Q: Your character in the film, Joan, speaks her mind and is hilarious and her best friend is Maya, played by Jennifer Lopez. You have been great friends with Jennifer for years. What was it like working together?

A: It was amazing because we didn’t need to spend weeks pretending to be friendly. We were already there which was comforting (laughs).

Q: And you got to slap each other … in a fun way.

A: Yeah. I got to hit her and she got to hit me back quite hard by the way. I am considering a lawsuit. I would like to reserve that here and now (laughs).

Q: Jennifer not only stars in the film but is a producer. Did she give you a call and ask you to be in the film?

A: I got a call from Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, her producing partner. She said, ‘Hey, we are writing a film. This might be good for you and Jennifer to do together’. That’s how difficult it was.

Q: Is it true you improvised a lot of the scenes with Jennifer rather than follow the script?

A: Yeah we improvised. It was a lot of little things. It’s allowing us to say things naturally how we would say things. That was amazing because not a lot of writers allow you to do that. It was really, really, easy to do because there was not a lot of memorization. I was also doing another job at the time so I couldn’t remember the lines anyway. If they were so foreign to me I would have done a bad job, so we just allowed it to happen. We knew where we had to get to.

Q: Second Act follows Jennifer’s character as she switches careers aged in her 40s. It’s tough to do that. Do you know anyone who has faced this?

A: Yeah. It’s very scary, but it is so admirable. To be able to say ‘I’m going to change the course of my life’ and to believe in yourself and have your support system to be able to do that is so courageous.

Q: What was the best thing about doing this movie?

A: It was a few things. It was great to work with friends, but also to shoot a kind of low budget movie in New York City where things were not shut down. We were at locations where real people were walking by us and real people were getting off the subway. We found it exciting.

Q: And a bit crazy. They must have been like, ‘There’s Leah Remini! There’s Jennifer Lopez!’

A: It was like we were more annoying to them just standing there with cameras. They were like, ‘Get the hell out of the way. We’re walking here’ (laughs).

Q: When you first read the Second Act script what did you think?

A: It was a little bit different process because it was my friends. It was like, ‘Yeah I’ll do anything’. I was looking at the script and thinking, ‘How is this like me and Jennifer in real life?’ Because it was very loose I just wanted to have a good time and we did. A lot of times when you are friends or a couple it doesn’t translate and sometimes people have chemistry if they don’t like each other and if they are married you can’t see it. Sometimes it doesn’t work. This worked because we were just being ourselves.

Q: Was there something you improvised that didn’t make it in the film?

A: I would like to see her slap back on me. Jennifer got me good. It really made me laugh. I always love seeing people’s real reactions and would have loved to have seen my real reaction when she got me good. We had a lot of other improv moments.

Q: What do you like most about Jennifer?

A: It’s hard because you see her as Jennifer Lopez and I see her as my friend Jen so it’s a little different. There’s a lot I love about her. I love her work ethic. There’s not a time problem with her. You’ll never hear her say she is tired. She just loves passionately what she does.

Q: When did you first meet Jennifer?

A: We met because I was friends with Marc Anthony. When they got together that’s when we met them for the first time. It was instant. I was just meeting a woman, not this other thing that everybody knows her as. I was meeting my friend’s girlfriend. When I first walked up to her it was for the premiere of Marc’s movie Man on Fire and I said, ‘Oh, you’re so annoyingly pretty’. It was a test to see if she had any personality and she just laughed and I was like, ‘Oh, and you also have a sense of humor. It sucks! You’re a well-rounded person’.

Q: How much of Jenny from the Block is there with Jennifer because you both now live in a different world compared to back then? How can you relate to people who work in supermarkets?

A: I think you are always from where you are from and it greatly depends who you are to your core. We’re still very close to who we are. I don’t think that is a stretch. I think if you are a person who is grounded and remains who you are I don’t think there is such a disparity.

Q: You play Joan, a mother of two boys, in Second Act. How did you create her?

A: I’m not an actress in that sense. I don’t go to the character. I don’t go to an acting coach. I just do me and say ‘Does that work?’. I’ve never been that talented. This is her. She just does what I do.

Q: What is it like having that attitude and no filter, like when you first met Jennifer Lopez and you say the things you say. Does it get you into trouble with people who don’t get you or have a sense of humor?

A: A lot of people don’t get me in this town. That’s every day. This why I don’t have a lot of celebrity friends. Jennifer is one of the rare people because she is just a friend to me and I consider her family. In general I think people are just taken with themselves. We are in a business that promotes and celebrates that. I don’t fit in that way.

Q: Is it hard to find your tribe then?

A: No. I don’t need a tribe. I have family and good friends. Most of my friends are not in that world like that. With Jennifer, when she’s not traveling or doing Vegas and it’s more of a normal schedule for her I’m at her house or she’s at my house and we’re usually in our sweats, hair up and no makeup on. We are cooking and dealing with our regular life.

Q: In the film your characters act like they are an old married couple.

A: That’s true in real life too. Jennifer is the more positive, happier one and I’m the more grumpier one and saying, ‘I need my coffee!’ and she’s making my coffee and I’m like, ‘I’m not talking until I get my coffee’. It is important to have your core group of friends to lift you up.

Q: Is it a good time for women to take chances in Hollywood now?

A: Yes. This is an amazing time for women. People are becoming more vocal about what is happening in the world and it is an amazing time. If you are on Twitter and social media you can think the world is coming to an end. Some believe that it isn’t. Some people are deeply depressed about the direction of this country but what is the positive of that is people are speaking up. I think people realize it is the power of the people that makes change. You don’t have to be a celebrity. You don’t need to have money. You just need to believe there is something you can do to change the circumstances and I think it is an amazing time for our country to start speaking out.

Q: You have both been through a lot. You with Scientology and Jennifer with her personal life. How do you guys support each other?

A: You just support each other like how normal people to do.

Q: Has the Scientology controversy quietened down with you?

A: No, no, no. It is probably more with the new season (of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath) coming up. Unfortunately. It’s not just me because there is a part of me that accepts it because of the business that I’m in. It is our contributors who are not used to having private investigators at the front of their houses, Scientology calling their jobs and accusing them of heinous crimes. This is what the policy of Scientology says to do. It is to destroy someone’s life. Obviously they are scared of the truth. It makes sense why they would up their game. They also have tax exempt status that allows them to have the funds to do these things unchecked.

Q: What do you think you have achieved with the two seasons of the Scientology documentary series?

A: I think people are getting educated now. They (Scientology) spend so much money on pushing their agenda up. If you Google search my name you’ll see the first thing is what they paid for which is an attack on me, the show, A&E and every contributor on the show. I think we have created an awareness and other people understand what they do. Hopefully I don’t think they are getting any new members. I think we have achieved people looking at it seriously as a harmful cult and not something that’s innocuous and ‘Oh, that’s what they believe in’. I want to be clear about that. You can be a religion all day and all night. I just don’t think you should have tax exempt status.

Q: What’s the reaction in Hollywood? Do you get more support?

A: Yes. There’s not a place that I go where people don’t say, ‘What you are doing is amazing’. The public has been amazingly supportive of what we are doing and our contributors. I always tell that to people who go on our show. You’re going to get attacked but I also want you to see all of the love and support you are getting from people who have no dog in the fight. You need to get that love and support from people and see that you’re doing the right thing.