To most folks, Super Bowl LIV, the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, was a game like any other, an opportunity to cheer on their favorite team, to denounce their enemy, or gather together with friends and eat food while waiting for the typical wild commercials developed by American-centric corps. But while most of us were focused on the game, dancer/actor/singer/business woman Jennifer Lopez was in the final stages of executing a dream performance: the Halftime Show at the Super Bowl. Described by her longtime manager Benny Medina as the largest stage in entertainment, Lopez has been dreaming for the opportunity to perform and wasn’t going to let that chance pass her by. Captured by director Amanda Micheli (One Nation Under Dog), Halftime records the months leading up to this performance, inviting audiences in to see how Lopez conceived, developed, and executed her portion of the program, all through the lens of her extensive career. Halftime isn’t a tell-all or an exposé, rather it’s a look at how audiences and the entertainment industry devour celebrity, uninterested in what this does to the people in the spotlight.
First, some background and a clarification:
According to Halftime, each Super Bowl Halftime Show has one headliner who is allowed to invite whomever they like in order to design the show of their choosing. While there is input from the NFL, it seems that the intent or vision of the performance is entirely up to the headliner. The difference here is that the year Lopez was asked to headline, she was asked to do so with Shakira. If you do a Google search on Shakira right now, the top stories will likely feature a number of click-bait articles with titles proclaiming how Lopez thought sharing the stage with Shakira was a terrible idea. Having zero fight in this, allow me to offer some context: in the documentary, while on the phone with Shakira discussing what the pair will do during the program, Lopez tells her that the NFL has given them around 14 minutes to perform (due to the need of setting up & breaking down the production to get back to the game), which gives each around six minutes. In her frustration, she explains that it was a bad idea to have two headliners as neither has enough time to put on the show their respective fans deserve. This was not a statement of Lopez’s own superiority or a declaration of how this was her (Lopez’s) show. Everything the two discussed was collaborative and supportive with zero denigration aimed at either party. Instead, a single conversation is stripped of context and used to gain clicks and sell ad space. Coincidentally, this gets to the heart of Micheli’s Halftime and the approach of the documentary to explore Lopez as a professional performer.
So if Halftime isn’t a story involving Lopez’s personal life, what kind of exploration of self is it?
Halftime is not a cursory, surface-level watch, it’s just not interested in offering audiences unnecessary gossip. Instead, through a mixture of archived footage, home photos, as-it-happens material, and interviews primarily from Lopez, a mosaic of a woman is crafted. This mosaic uses the journey toward the Halftime Show as the catalyst to look backward at the journey that got her there. This means that the previously mentioned conversation with Shakira, as it invokes Lopez having been on a night shoot, to jump over to behind the scenes footage on the set of the rom-com Marry Me released earlier this year. It also allows the documentary, as appropriate, to jump to look at other moments in her filmography. But where a doc might bring up her films just to make a point of how many she’s starred in, Halftime does it to address other issues like self-doubt and insecurity brought on by her own view of her abilities and talent or to highlight how, against her wishes, she became a commodity to be passed back and forth in the public eye. From Lopez leading her backup dancers and conversing with her choreographer and manager, we see a person in combat of her space, but then it jump cuts to moments in which she’s objectified via a long line of jokes about her posterior or her love life. Carol Martori’s (The Donut King) editing of the past into the present picks up the emotional labor where the talking head interviews from Lopez or the “present day” footage leaves off. There’s a psychological toll that comes from being in the public eye and constantly under scrutiny. Go anywhere online that’s talking about the mischaracterization of Lopez’s comment and you’ll see it playing out in real time, no longer needing to view footage of Matt Lauer, David Letterman, Matt Stone, or others reducing Lopez because they can. By creating a narrative device of traveling forward toward the Halftime Show while looking backward, Micheli creates many opportunities to reexamine moments in Lopez’s career that audiences thought they understood.
The major downside to Halftime isn’t that we don’t get any salacious details about her personal life, it’s that very few people outside of her professional life are given time in the documentary. There’s a brief scene capturing Thanksgiving where we see Lopez helping her father make dinner, creating an opportunity to examine Lopez through the eyes of her mother’s influence without delving too deeply into just how much their relationship made Lopez who she is today. Similarly, though daughter Emme is a prominent fixture throughout and plays a major part in Lopez’s Halftime Show production, we don’t hear from Emme herself as to how she feels being a part of it. Because of this, there’s a produced feeling, a guarded nature that pervades throughout Halftime that may dissuade audiences from coming away from the documentary with new information or perspective on Lopez. Intentional or otherwise, what we learn comes from the space between what we see as much as what we see. While Emme doesn’t get to talk to the audience directly, we can see how mother and daughter engage with each other, a clear comfort and trust on display. While we see Lopez traveling from one thing to another (this was the year that Lopez was robbed of a lot of Hustlers-related glory), we’re also shown Lopez making time to go to her daughter’s dance studio, an incidental moment that plays a huge part in the conception of Lopez’s Halftime production. Without these outsider perspectives, there comes a feeling that Halftime is not providing a complete story. To paraphrase something from the lone (and brief) Ben Affleck talking head interview, Lopez is guarded because she has to be. Thus, it’s in seeing how she reacts or doesn’t to positive affirmations or to rejection that we get a sense of just how strong Lopez has had to make herself as she’s battled to maintain her integrity after more than 30 years in the entertainment industry.
If Lopez’s truly delightful rom-com Marry Me does borrow as much from her own experience in adapting the original web comic as the production notes proclaim, then Halftime offers the side of Lopez that we think we know from all of her public appearances. The best part of Micheli’s doc is that there’s still much to surprise audiences by using those audience expectations to dig into the spaces in between, and, in those moments, we come away with greater respect for the Puerto Rican-American girl from the Bronx whose only interest was to be as successful as the dancers she saw in 1961’s West Side Story. But to achieve that dream, Lopez was told she had to give up some things, to give a part of herself away. She found her success through an unwillingness to compromise unless it’s to the people and things that matter to her. Even as the film jumps between her various professional aspirations, specifically tracking her awards cycle journey for Hustler, Micheli makes it plain what’s a distraction and what’s valuable to Lopez. Considering what we do learn about Jennifer Lopez, I think it’s fair to say that, with all that’s left for her to accomplish still, she’s only at her own halftime and not ready to quit.
Screening during the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.
Available to stream on Netflix June 14th, 2022.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.