Jennifer Lopez is a dancer, actress, and a musician. She’s also one of the hands in her kitchen preparing her extended family’s Thanksgiving dinner in 2019. Within that glass and white stole tile kitchen her mother is telling her that one of the dishes has too much vinegar. She says it in English. Scenes like this remind me of meals with my richer relatives. After preparing the meal, they would talk to me about the difficult lives they used to live before, well, getting rich.
These family members relate to me but I can’t relate to them. Lopez is similar about the differences between the way regular people see her and the way she sees herself. She’s still Jenny from the block who has to work hard to stay where she is. The camera captures her keeping her family together but underneath that sense of duty is the sense of fear. A fear that some force will take away the little respect that she gets.
In Halftime, Lopez’s and director Amanda Micheli’s argument is that there’s a specific kind of precarity in the life of a Latina regardless of class or perception of class. The film also shows the divide between the perceptions of class as a distinction that feels final versus one that feels mobile. The film shows this as it follows Lopez between late 2019 to early 2020. As a reminder, she was campaigning to get awards for her work in Hustlers, a film in which she acts and produces. The campaign included a turn in SNL which made for a good late night YouTube rabbit hole.
Jennifer Lopez references Hustlers, among many things, while rehearsing for her performance in the 49th Superbowl Halftime Show. She reluctantly shares the stage with a musician she respects. Shakira. They work together knowing that they deserve between than the 7 minutes each that the NFL is giving them. She’s also performing within the context of 2019 and 2020 when Latin and Black people were the boogeyman in Trump’s America. They still kind of are in 2022, a year when 2SLGBT+ are the boogey folk. Through the show, she hopes to make the show her way of dispelling bad stereotypes about both groups.
Lopez and Micheli basically brings us a behind the scenes documentary, showing the viewers day after day of her rehearsing for arguably the best Superbowl Halftime show. Not bad coming from what Lopez says, partially correctly, is a bad idea.
Despite this, I acknowledge some of my own subconscious prejudices against her here. She occasionally undermines herself and stops herself from total artistry. We compare her to other artists who are real artists because they get weird. But in fairness to her, nothing is as weird as The Cell in a good way. Her choice to prioritize music over acting is also fair. For every Ramona she gets, she gets a dozen romcoms that her talent can’t carry. But most people, including me, saw that transition as a downgrade. That comes from perception that music is more crass than acting because it kind of is sometimes. Even if yes, she proves that she can occasionally make great art through music and dance. She does this while being understandably and occasionally risk averse.
A more legitimate strike against this film is that there are kernels of scenes here which should have been there own films itself. The opening scene when she talks about films makes me wish her for a film course with Lopez as a teacher. The penultimate scene makes me wish that her performance at Biden’s inauguration had its own film because of how eerie it is. Nonetheless, I can’t give this film a bad review. As much as she doesn’t say anything new, what she says about class are kind of right. She adds narration to those rehearsal scenes saying that it’s all about feeling which is also right. There’s also a scene where she argues against NFL heads, pushing back against their restrictions against her. The mark of a true artist.
Before I go, a few stray thoughts. First, that it took me longer than the NFL to understand what the cages meant. Second, that it’s crazy that Lopez would rather talk about her mother abusing her than to talk about Marc Anthony. But again, it’s her movie, her choices.