Even when you’re one of the biggest stars in the world, your family is your family. One of my favorite moments in the new Jennifer Lopez documentary “Halftime” on Netflix is when J. Lo is in the car on the morning after earning rave reviews at the Toronto Film Festival for her performance in “Hustlers,” and she reads from a text thread including her mother, father and two sisters.
“My Dad goes ‘Happy Sunday guys, go Jets!’ ... [Mom]: ‘I have my Jets jersey on.’ … Leslie: ‘Jets Jets Jets!’ Lynda, “Go Jets! Jen had her film premiere last night and look at what they’re saying.” My mom goes, ‘Yeah, just recovered a fumble, go Jets!’”
Jennifer: “I’m just going to write, ‘Go Jets!’”
Netflix presents a documentary directed by Amanda Micheli. No MPAA rating. Running time: 96 minutes. Available Tuesday on Netflix.
HA! No matter your professional or personal achievements, you’ve probably experienced a similar family text thread that helps keep you grounded, at least on some level.
I’m not going to pretend this is an objective documentary, but director Amanda Micheli has delivered a solid, entertaining, insider’s look at the life and times of a once-aspiring singer-dancer-actress from the Bronx who left home at 18 to pursue her dreams, got her first big break as a “Fly Girl” on “In Living Color,” and for the last three decades has starred in some 40 major motion pictures and has sold more than 75 million records worldwide.
Even with all that success and a number of high-profile romances, Lopez has maintained a tight control over her image (like most stars on that level), and this is probably as close as her fans are going to get to a revealing filmed biography.
Following in the footsteps of Beyonce’s “Homecoming,” Billie Eilish’s “The World’s a Little Blurry,” Lady Gaga’s “Gaga: Five Foot Two” and the Janet Jackson documentary series on Lifetime, “Halftime” toggles between traditional biography material and an in-depth look at Lopez’ life as she hits 50 in the year 2019. A substantial amount of time is devoted to the Super Bowl halftime show in Miami in which Lopez was told she’d be sharing the stage with Shakira, giving each of them about 6-7 minutes of stage time. (The implication: Unlike previous Super Bowl halftime shows, with a clearly defined headliner, it would take TWO Latinas to carry the day.)
Clips from “Selena” and “Out of Sight” and “Hustlers” remind us Lopez can be a formidable screen presence, but we see how the tabloid media and a number of critics labeled her as a diva as they fixated as much on her figure and her romances as her career. (Late-night comics had a field day with Lopez for years. We see a clip of Billy Bush asking, “How do you feel about your BUTT?” to which Lopez replies, “Are you kidding me? You did not just ask me that.” Bush: “I did.”)
Director Micheli employs the classic fly-on-the-wall approach as we follow Lopez through day after day of promoting and rehearsing and planning and working out and traveling and being J. Lo, with the occasional break, e.g., a Thanksgiving dinner with her extended family. (“Lynda!” she calls out to her sister. “Do something with your dog that you didn’t tell me you were bringing.”)
It was (and of course continues to be) a racially and politically charged time in America and the discourse had spilled over into sports in a major way by 2019, and Lopez notes that while “I’m not into politics, I’m not that person,” she found herself “living in a United States I didn’t recognize.” Lopez felt it would be impossible NOT to make a statement during her performance, and the result was a medley that included children in small cages on the field and J. Lo brandishing a furry cape showcasing both the American and Puerto Rican flags, while her daughter Emme sang a few lines of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” There’s no denying the sincerity and passion behind Lopez’ messaging and the power of that moment, but there’s also a lot of handwringing over whether she’ll win the Golden Globe and receive an Oscar nomination for “Hustlers,” and unlike those family text threads, that’s one big giant A-Lister Hollywood Problem.
“I’ve lived in the public eye,” says Lopez. “One of the things I’m proud of is that I’m able to hold it together in front of everybody without anybody knowing how I feel.” For some, that very philosophy will mean “Halftime” falls short, as it pulls back the curtain only when Lopez wants the curtain pulled back. That might say more about us than it does the subject of this documentary. I’m perfectly fine with knowing exactly this much about Jennifer Lopez, and nothing more.