Street smarts don’t pay the bills.
And 40-year-old Maya knows it all too well. Growing up as an orphan in New York City, Maya knew what it was to work hard. But lately, that hard work hasn’t been paying off.
You see, Maya’s been preparing for a big meeting, one in which she hopes to be offered the position of manager at the local Value Shop, a grocery store she’s been faithfully improving for 15 years.
There’s only one problem: She doesn’t have a college degree.
So when she’s overlooked for a promotion by some newbie Harvard grad, Maya loses hope. It doesn’t matter how much her boyfriend, Trey, encourages her; or how much best friend, Joan, tells her it’s all gonna be OK. She’s just d-o-n-e.
But the next day, something strange happens. Maya lands an interview with Franklin & Clarke—the big wigs who own the Value Shop brand. And they’re impressed with her! Except, it’s not the real her. Her godson actually created a fake social media profile and an, uh, fake resume, to help Maya out.
It’s pretty impressive stuff, too: graduating from an Ivy League school, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and even rubbing elbows with the Obamas. It’s a background no one could say no to. And just like that, she’s in.
Now Maya will have to decide what’s more important to her: keeping up appearances, or being herself … no matter what the consequences might be.
Maya has a lot going for her. She is strong and independent, a woman of dedication and perseverance. But life has definitely thrown her some curveballs. Maya’s parents and grandparents passed away when she was young, and she became a product of the foster care system.
By 17, she was a homeless single mother. Eventually, she had to put her baby girl up for adoption. Maya makes it very clear that she never considered having an abortion, that she knew her daughter would have a better shot at a healthy life with an adoptive family. But despite her sacrificial motivation behind that choice, Maya still wrestles with regret over what might have been.
Maya is surrounded by loving friends who want the best for her. Her boyfriend, Trey, is her biggest fan. Whenever Maya struggles to believe in herself, Trey encourages her. He is a dedicated, kind boyfriend who wants a family and often reminds Maya, “You are the only one stopping you.”
Her best friend, Joan, although a loose cannon in some ways, is also dedicated to Maya and tries to help her move forward and forgive herself.
Along the way, we hear the lessons that Maya (and other characters) are learning. We hear truisms such as, “Our lives are shaped by a series of choices.” We’re encouraged to keep writing our own story, even if previous chapters have included deep disappointment. And we’re told that we need not look back in regret, but that we should look forward in hope because “our mistakes don’t limit us, only our fears do.”
Other characters throughout the film are sacrificial, thoughtful and compassionate.
Forgiveness, while not spoken of in an overtly “spiritual” sense, is one of the largest themes in this film. Maya struggles to forgive herself for past mistakes, even though others tell her it’s the only way she can move on in life. Eventually, she learns how to relinquish her regrets from past mistakes and to forgive herself.
Joan tells Maya that she is lugging her past around “like a cross.” A friend of Maya’s looks up to the sky and tells Jesus, “You my boo.”
We see Maya in the shower (though only from the shoulders up). Her live-in boyfriend, Trey, joins her there, fully clothed. It’s insinuated that the two then have sex.
Maya tells a friend that she had a one-night stand at 16 and got pregnant. Couples kiss and flirt. A man is seen shirtless and a woman suggests that she’d take a man’s suit off. Women wear revealing outfits. Joan grabs Maya’s breast during a provocative dance routine.
We hear multiple jokes about sex that include references and allusions to oral sex, masturbation, “swapping husbands,” “porn names”, transsexuality, male and female genitalia and sexual preferences. A woman tells her boyfriend that she is “kinky,” grabs his butt and bites his lip. At one point, Maya improperly translates Mandarin and says of a man that “his anal glands need milking.”
Joan playfully smacks Maya in the face to try to help her focus. A man says he wants to beat a fellow employee’s “a–with a chair.” A few birds get hit by a truck and die in a scene played for dark humor. A woman trips and falls, and another woman is purposefully tripped. Maya talks briefly about her parents and grandparents who passed away when she was a child.
We hear one f-word (as well as its milder stand-in, “frickin'”) and about 10 s-words. God’s name is also abused a similar number of times. Other profanity includes multiple uses of “a–,” “a–hole,” “b–ch,” “h—,” “p-ss” and “d–n.” We hear a number of crass slang references to the male anatomy, often in a name-calling context. People are called “scumbags” a couple of times.
A boy yells at two people, calling them “freakin’ p—ies.” We hear that this same child called his teacher a “dunt,” an obvious allusion to a much harsher vulgarity.
In an attempt to stop swearing, Joan employs multiple milder variants of curse words, such as “holy s-word,” “oh f-word” and “butt-fricked.”
Men and women drink beer, champagne, wine and hard liquor. A woman makes a reference to her friend being “messed up” after drinking.
Throughout her entire life, Maya has been made to feel inferior due to her lack of education and difficult past. Because of this, she decides to pursue (and obtain) a career predicated entirely on a lie. Although she possesses the necessary experience and skills to accomplish the job, she uses a fake resume and social media page (created by her godson) to represent herself as someone she isn’t. She has difficulty telling the truth to her employers, her boyfriend and herself. She also lets her friends down when she begins to choose her new life over her old life and old friends.
Maya’s friend Joan is known for not having a verbal or physical filter. She makes a comment about her “deadbeat ex-husband,” unbuttons her pants after eating too much and swears constantly. Her youngest son gets kicked out of school for using harsh profanity, which his mother has modeled for him. Additionally, Joan smacks her eldest son in the head for cursing, right after she herself swears.
Multiple better-educated men and women treat Maya (and others) as if they are inadequate by making multiple rude comments.
A woman says she’s vomited in her purse due to her fear of heights. Maya climbs through the window of an ex-boyfriend’s house when she finds the door locked.
Every day we wake up with a second chance.
The Bible actually says that in Lamentations 3:22-23: “His mercies never end. They are new every morning.” That means that we have grace for each and every new day. But the promise that we can start over, start fresh, is one that’s sometimes easier to believe for other people than it is to hold onto ourselves. And that’s exactly the problem Maya has in Second Act.
Maya is broken and hurt, haunted by a difficult childhood and a fractured past. And while she’s fine with others moving on with their lives, moving past their mistakes, she just can’t seem to forgive herself. It takes the help of loving family and friends for her to learn how to break the chains of the past and to begin building a foundation for the future.
In that sense, Second Act has some truly positive moments. It’s not your typical romantic comedy. And it offers messages of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope that I found to be deeply moving—all messages that our broken world needs to hear.
But we hear a lot of other stuff, too, things that aren’t so hopeful or redemptive. Characters unload a lot of profanity (including some from a young boy) and dish lots of sexual innuendo as this messy story unfolds.
So even though Second Act is about second chances, that doesn’t mean your family needs to give it a chance.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).