Recommended: Halftime on Netflix
What's Halftime About?
Cameras follow global pop superstar Jennifer Lopez during a six-month stretch in 2019-20 that began with the release of Hustlers through her spectacular Super Bowl Halftime Show performance in Miami, along the way touching on Lopez's 30-year career as a dancer/actor/singer and her struggles to achieve respect in a popular culture that's all too often refused to recognize her talent over her celebrity.
Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?
Pop star documentaries like Jennifer Lopez: Halftime tend to draw a not-undeserved raised eyebrow for how much they ride the line between documentary and self-produced puff piece. Lopez herself isn't listed as a producer on this project, though her creative partners Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Benny Medina (both of whom are in the movie) are, and it's doubtful anything genuinely scathing about Lopez would have made it into the film.
But pop albums are self-produced too, and they still manage to give us insight into the artist even as they're conscious of every foot they put forward; so too are these pop docs, which give us a window into not exactly who these superstars are, necessarily, but rather how they see themselves. In that regard, Jennifer Lopez: Halftime is a fascinating and often genuinely moving snapshot of a star who's in full control of her artistry and pop persona but who deeply craves the respect of an industry that has often denied that to her.
Shaping the film around her 2020 Super Bowl performance allows director Amanda Micheli to showcase Lopez's extraordinary work ethic. She's a triple threat talent, but her dancing is arguably underrated, and the most electric moments in the documentary are when she's in rehearsals, working through the routines with her backup dancers, or even observing a group of young girls in dance class who she'll ultimately employ in the halftime performance. Said performance comes in the midst of an incredibly fraught political climate, especially for Latinx people, and Lopez is shown battling with NFL executives to get explicit political content into her performance, particularly the visual of young girls breaking out of cages and singing "Born in the U.S.A." while Lopez unfurls a feather cape bearing the American and Puerto Rican flag symbols.
The Super Bowl was a crowning creative achievement for Lopez, even as it came on the heels of a crushing letdown after her acclaimed Hustlers performance was denied the Academy Award nomination that was widely predicted. Beginning at the film's premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the raves afforded to her performance were no mere critical notices, and she talks at length in the film about how her acting skills were constantly denigrated by an industry that seemed to willfully deny her any respect.
It's telling that the negativity thrown her way doesn't come from trolls on social media or even the press but from within the industry itself — late-night comedians most often and, on more than a few occasions, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone who seem to hold her celebrity in particular contempt. Against this backdrop, her Hustlers raves feel like long-awaited vindication, passed around in the Lopez family group text (when they're not texting about how the Jets need a new kicker) and on one occasion bringing Lopez herself to tears when she reads a review that acknowledges her long-undervalued talents.
The Hustlers Oscar snub is a blow (and if you're an Oscars obsessive, it'll likely re-ignite the hard feelings you may have had about Academy voters at the time), but Halftime is no pity party for the billion-dollar artist. That disappointment becomes fuel for the halftime performance, and if you don't walk out of this movie and immediately spring to YouTube to watch the perforamnce in its glorious entirety, you're made of stronger stuff than this reviewer.
Unsurprisingly, Halftime succeeds on Jennifer Lopez's star persona as well as her lucid self-assessment of how far she's come and how far she still wants to go ("halftime" in this sense has a double meaning), a star portrait of someone who at age 50 has gotten a taste of the respect she deserves and seems to be voracious for more.
Pairs well with