Halftime

Jennifer Lopez is simultaneously very confident and very insecure. That's the big takeaway from Halftime, a new Netflix documentary. The film tracks her during an especially notable period. She's generating Oscar buzz for the film Hustlers and she's been asked to perform the halftime show at the Super Bowl – a dream gig for any musician. Director Amanda Micheli follows Lopez as she fights for her strong vision of both the performance and her overall career, while also experiencing self-doubt about whether she's good enough to pull any of it off. I've admired J. Lo's work for a long time, and this movie increased my respect for her even more.

If there's a theme here, it's that, as a woman of color in the entertainment business, every triumph seems to come with a corresponding setback. Scoring the Super Bowl show is a dream come true, yet the NFL asks her to share the stage with fellow singer Shakira. Lopez calls this “the worst idea in the world,” not because she dislikes Shakira, but because the first time a Latino woman gets the job, they break tradition and insist on a double bill. That proves frustrating, as do the efforts to hamper her concept for the performance, which is a subtle dig at the Trump-era policy of putting immigrant children in cages. On the other end, she's nominated for every award under the sun for Hustlers, yet fails to get an Oscar nomination.

These two things capture the duality of Jennifer Lopez. She believes in giving the Super Bowl crowd a rousing show, realizing at the same time that – with a sizable audience – an opportunity exists to say something personal as a Latina living in the United States. When the NFL sends word from on high that she can't have little girls breaking out of cage-like contraptions, she steadfastly refuses to alter anything. That's the bold side. Interviewed on-camera, Lopez discusses the challenges she's faced in the industry, from being told she needed to lose weight, to having the media focus more on her love life than her work, to having her acting ability criticized by the Razzie Awards. Those factors have created a sense of insecurity that nags at her, despite being a genuine superstar.

Even if Halftime was produced by Lopez's team – meaning there's nothing in here the multi-talented performer doesn't want the public to see – there's bravery in being willing to show two sides of the same coin. Micheli creates an effective back-and-forth, capturing the frenzy of putting together the ultimately triumphant Super Bowl show and the disappointment of not having her acting abilities validated by an Academy Award nomination. Through her interview segments, we come to understand that successes make Lopez want to achieve more, whereas failures make her want to try harder. That's a more complex dynamic that it might seem. We tend to look at people like J. Lo as “having it all.” Halftime suggests that the definition of “all” is variable, and that the glitz, glamour, and success are hard-fought.

Perhaps the most compelling part of the documentary is simply the portrait of a creative woman who works to evolve as an artist, even after more than two decades of being a household name. If Jennifer Lopez has ever rested on her laurels, you'd never know it. Halftime conveys the manner by which she swirls victories and doubt into a force of energy that drives her. Judging by the film, we're not even close to seeing everything she can do. That's an exciting prospect.

With riveting behind-the-scenes footage to accompany the interviews, this movie is a testament to the fortitude that has allowed Lopez to maintain peak stardom.


out of four

Halftime is rated TV-MA for language. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.