Netflix’s newest documentary, Halftime, hit the streaming service this week, and it’s already a smash hit. Within two days, it hit #2 on the streaming service, as millions logged on to see an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the career of Jennifer Lopez, framed around her iconic 2020 Super Bowl halftime performance with Shakira. Through the use of interviews, vintage clips, and access to Lopez’s private life, we get a look at the entertainment icon never before seen. We also get an unexpected perspective on what motivates her to keep going.
The documentary is directed by Amanda Micheli, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her short subject documentary La corona. It’s produced by Benny Medina, Lopez’s longtime collaborator and producer, and his influence is evident: at times, it’s a glossy, deliberate love letter to Jennifer Lopez and her career. It feels too often like a highlight reel and an obvious promotional piece for what is referred to in the film as Lopez’s second half of her life. Her interviews provide the film’s narrative, so she is showing you only what she wants you to see. There are lots of clips of fans and the media fawning over her, as if you need to be reminded how talented she is. However, the unprecedented access given to Micheli allows for some moments of true honesty, many of them unflattering. It is in those true moments, when you see past the professional façade, that you actually gain more respect for Lopez and her career. It’s what she was aiming for in this documentary, but it may not come in the way she intended.
Reviews for Halftime have been excellent. It currently has an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 89% of viewers giving their stamp of approval. Rebecca Nicholson of The Guardian said Halftime “is as slick and flattering as you might expect, but it is also honest and revealing.” Jennifer Lopez fans, as you might expect, have been overwhelming in their love and support for the film.
If Halftime does anything well, it is the way it encapsulates all the various aspects and triumphs of a career that has now spanned more than three decades. Jennifer Lopez turned 50 in 2019, so she spends a lot of the time looking back at the highlights of her career, beginning with her big break as one of the “Fly Girls” dance crew on the Fox comedy sketch show In Living Color. There are lots of clips from – and discussions about – her films, including Selena, Hustlers, Monster-in-Law, and Out of Sight. Her singing career gets a huge amount of screen time, as you might expect, but the real insight into what makes her “tick” comes when we see Lopez in her preparations for her Super Bowl performance. The focus and dedication shows exactly why she has endured as an entertainer for so long. There’s even a brief mention of her relationship with Ben Affleck.
The film’s best scene – where we see a genuine moment of honesty from Jennifer Lopez – comes nearly an hour into the film, when she attends the 2020 Golden Globe Awards. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for Hustlers, and she was a dark horse to win. She ends up losing to Laura Dern, and when she is seen going back to her hotel suite, where family and friends are waiting, the pained disappointment is obvious. Her family can’t hide their sadness as well, and we see her pain when she misses a chance at professional validation of her career from Hollywood. Later, upon reading a positive review of her performance, she breaks down crying. It’s brutal to watch, but you feel every moment. When she is later snubbed for an Academy Award nomination (which many expected), the pain comes back yet again.
The documentary is also generating controversy, after a line Jennifer Lopez says in a moment of anger seemed to slam Shakira. In her preparations for the Super Bowl performance, Lopez gets pushback over the length of time of her performance, as well as some political symbolism. She insisted on showing young Latina girls in cages, to protest immigration policy, which the NFL pushed back against, saying it was not appropriate for a halftime show. In a heated telephone conversation, Lopez exclaims “I’m trying to give you something with substance; not just us out there shaking our f*****g asses and f*****g belly dancing.” Many took that as a slam against Shakira herself, and the cultural significance of belly-dancing. Considering the performance marked the first time two Latinas headlined a Super Bowl halftime show, some critics took issue. Many say the quote is taken out of a larger context, and neither Lopez or Shakira have commented on the controversy.