Opinion: Jennifer Lopez’s “Halftime,” story is not what it seems.

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To be a star for more than a decade, it takes a very special personality. Either you have to be a chameleon, Lady Gaga or Madonna or a diamond. It is a shiny, indestructible, and unbreakable diamond that will not be destroyed no matter what happens. Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez is the stunning, unnervingly constant centerpiece of Netflix’s new documentary “Halftime.” She is a diamond. Although she has been doing this for some while, the movie keeps reminding us that she is still the same 27-year old Lopez who was the star of ‘s breakout hit, “Selena,” in 1997. As “Halftime,” opens, we see her blowing out the candles from her 50th birthday cake.

As “Halftime”, however, shows, there is a difference between being a performer, artist or person and being a documentary subject. Lopez, a woman working in the entertainment business, lives under intense scrutiny, especially as a woman of colour. Although the protective armor she has built for herself and her forensic control over her story are understandable tools for survival, they don’t seem to be able to help but undermine the success story of “Halftime.”

Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez

 

The documentary includes a few tangential glimpses into Lopez’s childhood, early career, and the six months between her 50th birthday in February 2020 and her Super Bowl halftime performance with Shakira. Her mission statement is quite clear. “My entire life, I have been fighting, battling to make my voice heard, seen, taken seriously. Now I have the incredible opportunity to share who I am with the world… What will I say? She asks the question in a voiceover at beginning.

The movie continues to reveal that her answer is actually twofold. She wants to show Latin culture and eradicate prejudice at the Super Bowl halftime shows, and she wants be taken seriously as an entertainer, especially for her role as Ramona, a stripper turned con artist in “Hustlers” 2019. These goals can sometimes seem almost interchangeable. We discover that they share tensions with JLo.

Lopez wants to highlight the horrible, cage-like conditions that child immigrants are living in at the United States border. This is the main point she is keen to bring up during her Super Bowl set. Although she makes a valid point about soft power in the film — the audience doesn’t want to hear the message rammed down their throats — there is scarcely any questioning of why Lopez (a person with a long history philanthropy) has waited so long to become publicly political. According to the film, she has over 350 million followers on her social media platforms.

Jennifer Lopez is the stunning, unnervingly constant centerpiece of Netflix's new documentary "Halftime."
Jennifer Lopez is the stunning, unnervingly constant centerpiece of Netflix’s new documentary “Halftime.”

Although the Super Bowl halftime stage may be unique as a platform, it is far from Lopez’s only outlet. The film briefly touches on the kneeling controversy

surrounding the NFL at that time. However, it skips any mention that Rihanna withdrew her support for the 2019 halftime show because she “didn’t want to be an enabler of the systems that were supporting the police brutality of injustice Kaepernick was protesting.” While there is a case to be made for seizing the opportunities, no matter where they are from, “Halftime” doesn’t support it.

You can see why Lopez may be reluctant to abandon the ideas that she believes will win her widespread popularity as a person who has taken advantage of every opportunity offered her, but also how rare this position is.

When she is discussing songs for the closing song of the halftime set, her tunnel vision is evident. She is certain that a Bruce Springsteen cameo singing “Born In The USA” will be a great choice. She says that Shakira isn’t crazy about the song, but she also mentions briefly that Shakira was born and raised in Colombia. Emme Lopez’s daughter sings the “Born in the USA” hook on the day. We don’t know what Shakira thinks about that outcome.

 

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez

We don’t have much time to dwell on it, since we are back to Lopez’s personal story in seconds. Her acting has been receiving serious awards buzz for the first time in 20 years, and she hopes that the Academy will finally recognize her. Time, says “Halftime,” for some pathos. A quick section of montage covers the media’s obsession with Lopez in the early 2000s — which was often lascivious and crudely racist at its worst.

In a cutaway interview she discusses her conspicuousness in being a curvy (by Hollywood standards), woman in a celebrity world that is dominated by blonde waifs. To make it through those times, she said she had to “really find” her identity. It’s all fine and dandy, but you as the viewer are left feeling that you have only gotten half of the way.

 

Lopez, much like Emily Ratajkowski’s excellent essay collection “My Body,” describes the objectification that she has experienced vividly but her response is less insightful. There is potential for intimacy in a way that was not possible in “Framing Britney Spears,” where Spears’ abuse of the press was detailed in horrifying detail but did not include any first-hand information from Spears. It feels like another missed opportunity.

Lady Gaga discusses a similar issue in her 2017 Netflix documentary, “Five Foot Two,” which also features her Super Bowl.

It would have been interesting if Lopez had discussed the creative choices behind projects like her “Jenny From The Block” music video, which repeatedly zeroed in on Lopez’s behind and featured paparazzi-like footage of her and her ever-supportive then-beau, Ben Affleck — who she’s now dating again, and makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in the film. Was she regretting her decision to participate or was she completely in control? We don’t know the answer.

Jennifer Lopez is the stunning, unnervingly constant centerpiece of Netflix's new documentary "Halftime."
Jennifer Lopez is the stunning, unnervingly constant centerpiece of Netflix’s new documentary “Halftime.”

When it comes to assessing a multi-talented superstar in just 95 minutes, the problem is that, while it’s easy for everyone to agree that Jennifer Lopez deserves full credit for her accomplishments, the narrative arc demands that you feel pain when she doesn’t get an Oscar nomination. This happens frequently to similarly talented actors.

 

Lopez is at her lowest point in the movie. However, it would have been interesting to learn more about her early years as dancer and the aftermath of her leaving her parents’ house at 18 years.

Lopez has the right to not tell us and is charismatic enough for the film to be a success. However, the control she has had over her life and career and the fact that she’s survived an industry that has made so many women like herself victims doesn’t allow for the full vulnerability that would make the film possible.

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