The most revealing 20 seconds of Jennifer Lopez’s new Netflix documentary, ‘Halftime’, don’t happen until after the footage ends. After a triumphant scene of Lopez singing at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the screen cuts to black and a title card appears.
“As of this date, Jennifer Lopez has: sold 80 million records with 15 billion streams; starred in nearly 40 films, grossing $3 billion; garnered more than 350 million social media followers; and generated over $5 billion in consumer sales as a brand,” the documentary reminds the audience after a 90-minute movie chronicling arguably the busiest six months in Lopez’s career, from her star turn in ‘Hustlers’ to her electrifying Super Bowl halftime show.
But none of that is enough. Because it’s never enough when it comes to J-Lo, a woman who’s somehow still operating as both icon and underdog some 30 years after moving to Hollywood. So the documentary — or should we say extended backstage pass with artist approval — about the multihyphenate talent can’t end without shouting her stats.
“My whole life I’ve been battling and battling to be heard, to be seen, to be taken seriously,” says Lopez, a non-stop entertainer who celebrated her 50th birthday in 2019 with a 25-city tour.
With a mix of behind-the-scenes video of the woman of the hour zipping from one gig to the next (and a brief cameo from her once and again fiance, Ben Affleck), ‘Halftime’ is not just a film about the 2020 Super Bowl performance that should’ve shut down all the naysayers. In the documentary’s most illuminating moments, the glow of Award Show J-Lo and the sweat of Dance Rehearsal J-Lo give way to allow occasional peeks into the real J-Lo, a woman who’s been swatting away asterisks on her record since the beginning.
The middle child of three girls, Lopez wasn’t “the smart one” or “the singer,” explains the Bronx native. She was “the dancer.” That label stuck with her when she got her start as a ‘Fly Girl’ dancer on the sketch comedy show ‘In Living Color’. But she wanted to break into movies. “Seriously, I’m an actress,” she recalls telling agents, fighting to get someone to represent her.
Fast-forward through decades of movies, albums and outside ventures to the 2019 gritty girl caper ‘Hustlers’, which Lopez starred in and produced. Almost immediately, the actress earned golden statue buzz for her “comeback” role as Svengali stripper Ramona.
And while ‘Halftime’ follows Lopez for the ups, such as her first Golden Globe nomination since her breakout role in 1997’s ‘Selena’ — “It took 20 years and another 25, 30 movies to get her,” Lopez jokes — it stays with her for the inevitable downs, too.
After losing the Globe to Laura Dern, Lopez, all done up in her custom Valentino gown, walks into a hotel suite filled with her longtime squad and offers a nonchalant shoulder shrug that would break anyone’s heart.
“I really thought I had a chance. I felt like I let everybody down,” she says later. Moments like that one reveal the real star of ‘Halftime’ — the person outside of the tabloid covers, late-night punchlines and ‘South Park’ parodies. Not everything comes up roses, no matter how big a star you are.
Even the Super Bowl performance comes with a caveat. Instead of headlining on her own, Lopez is asked to share the main stage with Shakira, making the giant gig feel like both a boost and a backhand. “It was an insult to say you needed two Latinas to do the job that one artist historically has done,” explains Lopez’s longtime manager Benny Medina. But after a few f-bombs of frustration, J-Lo takes it in stride — like everything else — and uses the moment to make a political statement meant to counteract the anti-immigrant jingoism ignited by then-President Donald Trump.
Watching Lopez on-screen, it’s as if she’s still fighting against that label she got as a kid: not the singer and not the smart one. While ‘Halftime’ can never fully answer the question of who exactly Lopez is, since the star herself admits she won’t reveal all, just weaving her many strands together makes the point clear: She is all the things. She doesn’t fit into one big box, which perhaps makes minimising her impact easier.
That refusal to be tied down is highlighted in a scene between the singer and her music director when they sit down to hash out the six minutes of solo time allotted for Lopez on the Super Bowl stage.
“I just need my J-Lo moment,” says her director.
“Which one?” asks Lopez. “There’s hip-hop J-Lo, funk J-Lo, Latin J-Lo ... and Mama J-Lo. ‘Shoot me down but I can’t fall’ J-Lo. ‘You try to write me off but I ain’t going no [expletive] where’ J-Lo.”
Throughout all the buzz and the blows, Lopez keeps plugging along. While prepping for the Super Bowl, we see the actress filming ‘Marry Me’, the singer recording new albums and the dancer shooting music videos.
“She’s a dancer who became an actor who became a singer who became a global icon,” says Lopez’s producer partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas. “She’s a woman of colour who had the audacity to pursue her dreams.”
Don’t miss it!
‘Halftime’ is out now on Netflix.