'Second Nature' film review: Indie flick flips the gender roles
With the tone and tenor of a raunchy CW show, the light and playful indie comedy "Second Nature" (opens in Seattle on Sept. 8 and is available on VOD starting Sept. 19) is unequipped to deal with its gender inequality themes.
In short: Earnest community leader Amanda (Collette Wolfe, "Hot Tub Time Machine") and womanizing Bret (Sam Huntington, "Superman Returns") run for mayor of a small town when a magical mirror sends them to a world where gender roles are reversed.
First the good news: Wolfe and Huntington keep the movie buoyant and enjoyable. Their lighthearted dynamic work as a pair of longtime colleagues turned political opponents who are thrown into a crazy situation. And individually, the two actors have to cover a lot of ground as characters whose perspectives greatly change.
That said, nothing about about this well-meaning social commentary comedy is subtle or nuanced. Virtually every supporting character is a broad, one-dimensional caricature of men and women. Women tell each other to "woman up" and the men wear makeup. It's fair to say the supporting cast members don't really play characters - they're walking/talking gender-based stereotypes.
Setting aside the movie's obvious intent, "Second Nature" has fundamental structural issues. For a movie rooted in a pair of lead characters, the film is a bit unbalanced: Amanda gets the character arch and Bret gets the plot-driven arch. Bret is introduced as a crude misogynist - but he completely changes his tune after just one night in the alternate universe. His character development effectively ends half way through the movie - he spends the rest of the movie trying to find a way back home. The fact that his understanding of gender inequality is resolved so quickly in favor of a weak treasure hunt b-plot effectively weakens Bret's overall story arch. The film values his determination to get back home more than his understanding of inequality.
Meanwhile, Amanda gets the more interesting inner conflict plot - initially the underdog, she has the upper hand in the alternate universe. Her hesitancy to returning to her world becomes understandable - but "Second Nature" fails to make the strongest case for Amanda's character motivations. Her ultimate decision is underwhelming because, once again, the film prioritizes a plot point over exploring her understanding to any depth.
Magical realism is a perfectly acceptable plot device for any movie - but either leave it vague or interweave its complexity into the thematic or character elements. The magical mirror becomes a serious problem in the third act. The characters lose it after the first act - then it suddenly reemerges in the third act in the worst manner possible: an inconceivable string of coincidences and weird plot turns. This culminates in a completely random and unnecessary last-minute plot turn involving the mirror - leaving a massive plot thread unresolved, to which a main character just shrugs off and says "whatever."
This goofy and entertaining high-concept comedy gets bonus points for its enthusiasm and clear motivation. "Second Nature" has something to say about the gross imbalance in modern gender dynamics - but a better version of this same film would dial back the caricatures and invest in more character development.
Final verdict: "Second Nature" is good-natured "what if" scenario that rides on the charm of Wolfe and Huntington. While enjoyable on its surface, the comedy simply cannot make up for its core flaws.
"Second Nature" is available on various streaming services on Sept. 19. The indie comedy is unrated and has a running time of 80 minutes.