It’s easy to smirk during the opening moments of Amanda Micheli’s “Halftime.” We watch Jennifer Lopez, global icon and multi-hyphenate talent, ready to perform at the eponymous halftime show of the 2020 Super Bowl — perfect makeup, big hair, shiny costumes, cheering crowds — as her voiceover narration bemoans her lifelong quest to be seen, to be heard, to be taken seriously. Seen? Heard? Taken seriously? Girl, you’re a massive superstar!
The documentary also wants to tell us, as Lopez once said, that’s she’s still just Jenny from the block. The great surprise and joy of Micheli’s straightforward narrative is, thanks to intimate access and clever editing, we have sympathy for Lopez’s apparent case of imposter syndrome. For the performer — and, at some point, for her audience — it’s very real. Even with her current run of accolades and successes, Lopez has the never lost the desire to succeed (or, it seems, gained the ability to settle into the feeling of that success). If someone as talented and driven as Jennifer Lopez thinks she’s not up to snuff, we’re all screwed.
The documentary’s title refers to the gobsmacking show the icon put together for the 2020 Super Bowl, but of course it’s also about her life as she celebrates her 50th birthday during the film’s opening credits. She tells her loved ones that she “feels like her life is just beginning.” Or, perhaps, it’s only half over? Here’s hoping! Micheli’s film tracks Lopez through a seminal year, kicking off in July 2019 before zipping forward six months when Lopez found herself juggling an awards campaign for “Hustlers” and fast-tracked prep for the halftime show.
There’s no question the problems that Lopez faces are of the champagne variety — “will I get an Oscar nomination?” is truly the height of high-class worries — but Lopez so deeply feels the need to prove herself that eventually her concerns become real drama. Micheli’s film is less than artful, scattered with limited talking heads (mostly Lopez’s business partners and her mother, briefly), random flashbacks, occasional archival footage, and a series of short sequences that could frame their own films (particularly quick-cut segments about Lopez’s early years, her treatment by the press, the obsession with her body, the constant tabloid attention), but none of that is the draw: it’s Lopez.
There’s never a moment when Lopez isn’t on-screen, from interviews to behind-the-scenes footage that track everything from costume fittings to dance practice, her trying to juggle being a mother with her massive career, even a revelatory visit to a doctor who all but begs her to slow down. Lopez’s halftime prep looms large, but nothing is as central as her protracted awards campaign for her work in Lorene Scafaria’s wonderful “Hustlers” (which Lopez also produced), which many believed would garner her an Oscar nom. You know where this ends. Hard to smirk at that imposter syndrome now, huh?
It’s hardly a warts-and-all production — even moments in which Lopez gets a little snippy are in service to her pursuit of doing good work, and will likely leave the audience screaming, “Yaaaas, queen!” — but there are brief flashes of revelation. From the bruises that line her legs while learning how to pole dance for “Hustlers” to the gentle way she teaches a routine to a pack of young dancers, the real Lopez seems profoundly human. A brief scene in which her beaming friends and staff send a glamorous Lopez off to the Golden Globes, where we all know she will lose, really stings.
Anyone looking for J.Lo gossip will be disappointed — while the film covers a period in which the star was engaged to Alex Rodriguez, he only appears briefly in a zippy montage in which Lopez pointedly says the only thing she’ll share about her love life is that she’s had to learn to be there for herself first, to become her own home before seeking out another. (Lopez’s current fiancé, Ben Affleck, does pop up as a talking head for just one segment, sharing his experience in understanding why the press could be so vicious to Lopez: “She said, ‘I’m a Latina. I’m a woman.'”)
More spicy are Lopez’s experiences putting together the halftime show, a major event that seems, frankly, cursed from the start. Lopez’s superpower (well, one of them) is her awareness of what people think of her — or perhaps more pointedly, what people think they can get out of her. When the NFL needed to show off its alleged care for people of color after a number of controversies (Colin Kaepernick appears early on, as do clips that address then-President Trump’s adoration for building! that! wall!), they tapped J.Lo for their halftime show. And then they also tapped Shakira, presumably thinking that having two Latinas was even better.
Lopez sees through it. It’s cheap, it hamstrings both of them, it’s never been done before, and it means neither star is getting the full time previously allotted to other headline acts. Screw it. Lopez puts together an eye-popping show — even when she splits the time equally with Shakira, who comes and goes throughout the doc — that has a major political message (admittedly, very new for her) when she decides to flood the field with little girls in cages. It’s not subtle, but when has Lopez ever been subtle?
The film ends, both hysterically and appropriately, with a listing of Lopez’s current accomplishments, from her record sales to her current philanthropic endeavors. She deserves those flowers — and more.
“Halftime” premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. It will start streaming on Netflix on Tuesday, June 14.