‘Halftime’ Documentary Is a Salute to Jennifer Lopez

Director Amanda Micheli’s Netflix documentary “Halftime” is an overdue celebration of Jennifer Lopez. Rather than follow a traditional biographical format or merely peer behind the scenes of Lopez’s titular 2020 Superbowl performance, the film effectively uses the halftime show as a focal point whereupon all the passion underlying Lopez’s prolific career neatly converges. It draws us into the halftime point not only of a football game, but of Lopez’s career and life, as she coincidentally turned 50 the year of the performance. With Lopez at her pinnacle, it’s an ideal vantage point from which to survey all of her career accomplishments that culminate in the crowning moment. 

We begin with footage of Lopez’s 50th birthday celebration, an event that lends itself to a retrospective diversion. Lopez herself narrates the film, although her commentary is sparing, allowing for intimacy without dissolving into personal excesses. She glances back at her upbringing in the concrete jungle of the Bronx, from which the colorful world of musicals offered escape. She fondly reminisces about her adoration for “West Side Story” and the particular inspiration she found in its Puerto Rican star, Rita Moreno. Simultaneously, she recalls growing up in the shadow of a sister widely credited as the singing talent of the family, foreshadowing a need to prove herself that informs much of the story to unfold. Among Lopez’s claims to fame is her triptych offering as a dancer, singer, and actor. The film traces her trajectory to celebrity status, as we see her initial focus on dancing highlighted in footage of early castings including her early career stint on “In Living Color.” 

The film progresses swiftly in a manner that captures the hustle characterizing Lopez’s work ethic. In a flash, we are at the halftime point. A clip of an appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show finds Fallon giddily reveling about the litany of Lopez’s accomplishments that year — a 50th birthday, a sold-out tour, a critically acclaimed performance as both star and producer of the film “Hustlers,” and a slot headlining the NFL Superbowl halftime performance. Naturally, such fanfare comes with a sizable burden, which turns out to be a considerable focus of the film. Speculation of a Best Actress nomination for “Hustlers” arrives in the aftermath of ten Golden Raspberries, designations from the parody award show honoring the worst cinematic performances. The public, at large, has been merciless in its scrutiny of Lopez, and one of the more eye-opening aspects of “Halftime” involves the toll it has taken on the artist. We see Lopez entertaining hopes for an award, nearly forty films into her acting career. Prospects finally appear promising as the Golden Globes approach, but Lopez ultimately emerges empty-handed. The vulnerability in her voice is clearly audible when we hear her shrugging off her loss, and it’s surprising how much importance an already world-renowned superstar appears to place on the obviously subjective designations of academies whose track record might alone invalidate their authority. Lopez offers insufferably clichéd explanations that she does what she does not for recognition but to satisfy and uplift fans. It’s altogether a pitiful display, but one that further humanizes a celebrity who has consistently come across as humble. In her own words, “I’m still Jenny from the block.” Snippets from the tabloids offer a context for Lopez’s fragility, with their scathing criticism targeting everything from her singing abilities to her number of romantic partners. Among the subjects of the media’s vitriol is body image, an issue with a dimension of ethnic prejudice, as Lopez’s physique represents a departure from the less curvy female archetype. In this respect, Lopez has undoubtedly emerged triumphant, being widely recognized as a sex symbol. Footage of the iconic green jungle Versace dress that she wore to the 2000 Grammy Awards ceremony encapsulates the precedent she set in a departure from rigid standards of beauty. 

It is the titular Superbowl performance, however, where the significance of Lopez’s American and Puerto Rican identity truly comes to the forefront. From the onset, her selection appears partly a transparent attempt to appease America’s Latin American population amid Trump’s defamatory remarks and immigration policy measures targeted at that community. Lopez is forced to share the spotlight with Colombian singer Shakira, another Latin pop star, for an offering often given to a single artist. Behind-the-scenes footage of Lopez’s rehearsals reveal a struggle to deliver a convincing performance within a crammed slot. In a bold move of unprecedented sociopolitical implications, Lopez designs a choreography routine involving children in cages, an obvious protest to the outrages at the border. The NFL demands that the cages be moved. In a climactic moment, we hear Lopez declare, “The Superbowl is tomorrow, and we’re not changing anything.”       

There is perhaps no more spectacular of a platform than the Superbowl halftime show to make such a statement, and it makes for a triumphant victory. Draped in an American flag, Lopez calls out, “Latinos,” then sings, “Born In the USA.” It’s a bittersweet culmination, as the performance can easily add fuel to the criticism leveled at Lopez throughout her career. Springsteen’s “Born In the USA” was a sarcastic song, but was foolishly appropriated by clueless Republicans in the ‘80s, and Lopez doesn’t appear aware of any of this. Moreover, her stridently amateurish rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” is an underwhelming finale. On the other hand, after hearing her narration throughout the film, it’s striking how her unaffected delivery of the tune springs naturally from her speech, entirely free of any artifice. One is forced to admire the authenticity of it all. In the end, we are reminded that Lopez has sold 80 million records, garnered 15 billion streams, starred in nearly 40 films grossing roughly $3 billion dollars, generated over $5 billion in consumer sales as a brand, and recently launched Limitless Labs, whose mission is to empower underserved communities. And, of course, this is all only just at halftime. 

Halftime” begins streaming June 14 on Netflix.