For much of her career, Jennifer Lopez has delivered top notes of Hollywood glamour with base notes of Bronx grit. It’s a paradox she turned into the ultimate humblebrag on her brilliant 2002 hit ‘Jenny From The Block’: “I’m real, even on Oprah.” This behind-the-scenes documentary following the singer-actress-mogul as she prepares for the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show was never going to be warts-and-all: both Lopez and her manager Benny Medina are credited as producers, and that’s just not the J.Lo way. Still, despite sometimes slipping into hagiography, Halftime manages to offer a reasonably intimate insight into a performer who remains perpetually underrated more than 20 years after she became a superstar.
Actually, it’s not hard for director Amanda Micheli to paint her subject as underrated because she’s handed an irresistible in-built narrative. While she rehearses for the Halftime Show, Lopez is also working the awards circuit as producer and standout star of Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria’s riveting film about scamming New York strippers. Lopez’s magnetic performance as crew matriarch Ramona deservedly earns the star her first Golden Globe nod in 22 years, but she’s shockingly snubbed when the Oscar nominations are announced. In one of Halftime‘s most revealing scenes, Lopez confides that she woke up thinking she’d made the Supporting Actress shortlist as everyone had predicted, only to find out it was just a dream. It’s hardly a relatable slight, but you’ll feel sorry for her anyway.
The film is equally compelling when it shows us the sweat – and at times, necessary belligerence – that goes into her Halftime Show. Lopez vents her frustration at having to share this highly prized slot with a co-headliner, Shakira, who appears briefly and convivially here, pointing out that the split gives her just six-and-a-half minutes to make a career-defining artistic statement. However, it’s Medina who really confronts the racist elephant in the room. “It was an insult,” he says, “to say you needed two Latinas to do the job that one artist historically has done.” Later, we see Lopez double down when the NFL tells her to axe a sequence featuring singing kids emerging from cages: her comment on Trump’s barbaric immigration policy. “To me, this is not about politics, it’s about human rights,” she says firmly.
Micheli doesn’t tiptoe around the racism, sexism and callous objectification Lopez has faced during her career. One of the less offensive press clippings that flashes on screen says: “If Jennifer Lopez were any more bland and any more beautiful, she could be auctioned as a vase at Sotheby’s.” But neither does her film fully hold the media to account for trying to define Lopez by the men she dated. This isn’t a revisionist portrait of a maligned woman in the public eye like Framing Britney Spears, but a document of Lopez’s perseverance, perfectionism and ability to transcend what is expected of her. J.Lo wants us to know she’s always moving forward.
In a way, it’s a shame the film ends with a basic boilerplate listing Lopez’s record sales, box office receipts and social media following. By this point, Halftime has done more than enough to show us that its subject is very much the real deal.