“You don’t want to lose in this dress,” says a 50-year-old Jennifer Lopez to her team while trying on a Valentino gown – a golden bodice paired with a giant gold-and-green bow, with a voluminous white floor-length skirt – she chose to don at the Golden Globes 2020. Lopez was nominated for the role of Best Supporting Actor (Female) for her standout performance as a stripper in director Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers and received the nomination 22 years after her breakthrough performance in Selena (1997). Hustlers remains her career’s biggest hit yet after a spate of rickety comedies.
In Halftime, Amanda Micheli’s attempt to celebrate singer-dancer-actor-producer Jennifer Lopez, the multi-hyphenate does not walk home with the hallowed trophy. She returns from the award show, does not ponder over it with her visibly upset manager Benny Medina, thanks her team and is back to grueling rehearsals the next day for her performance at Superbowl – the most-watched television event of the year in the US .
And it’s here that things begin to get interesting in an otherwise very managed documentary that does not converse with anyone beyond Lopez’s family and friends. Her fiance Ben Affleck makes a short, one-line interview appearance, in what looks like a carefully drafted inclusion for attention.
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As for the interesting bit, Superbowl came to Lopez in Trump’s America where a wall was being built and immigrants were being targeted. The Puerto Rican in Lopez was angry, a rare first for an otherwise apolitical Lopez, who sang love songs most of her life and was brilliant at them. In Halftime, she says, “I am not into politics… But I was living in a United States that I didn’t recognise. I was afraid for my kids, their future”.
So she decided to make a statement. Amid a touch from the Hustlers as she hung from a pole and amid some of her massive hits such as I’m still Jenny from the block and Waiting for Tonight, she decided to put children, including her daughter Emmee in lit-up cages on the main stage, representing the detention of migrant children near US borders. A day before the show National Football League (NFL) wanted the cages off the grounds. Lopez insisted, fought for the show to stay the same, and got her way. Even though her time was halved with the NFL also putting Shakira on stage, Lopez managed to assert herself and her political stand while the world watched. “It was an insult,” Medina says in the documentary, “to say you needed two Latinas to do the job that one artist historically has done.” But Latinas were commanding the stage in Trump’s America and in that moment that’s what mattered. Her moxie may have come from the Bronx, the courage was all her own. The show is a coup, one of the best Superbowl halftime shows ever, and this is when Beyonce was up on that stage in 2016. But Lopez, the powerhouse performer that she is, was made for this spectacle and her dominion is immaculate.
But while the film celebrates Lopez, her career, her music, the way she crossed over, her successes, and her impeccable talent, it does not ever introduce to us the ‘Jenny’ behind the glammed-up Lopez, the megastar. We get that peep when she says to her backup dancers, “It takes a while to warm up to me,” but not much else. In fact, sometimes her diamond-encrusted sip cup gets more attention than something gritty and real from her own life. Yes, there is the reference to the ‘butt jokes’ in late-night shows and South Park back in the day and how the world of tabloids treated her unfairly, which they did, and how she went through a phase of reduced self-esteem , but a lot from her complex life is left to be fleshed out. Her actual life story, the struggles, her music, and the media hype around her personal life never really makes an appearance.
In Halftime, when Lopez does not get the Oscar nod for her solid performance in Hustlers, racism is hinted at. And then, minutes later, we are at Joe Biden’s inaugural ceremony, as Lopez dressed in all-white – the color of women’s suffrage movement – sings Woodie Guthrie’s This land is your land, this land is my land… this land is for you and me along with the president’s Marine Band. She quoted from the Pledge of Allegaince in Spanish: “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Lopez, the cultural underdog, wins in that moment. One wishes that the film on Lopez was half as dazzling as Lopez actually is.