Jennifer Lopez is still “Jenny from the Block” in the new documentary Halftime, currently streaming on Netflix. The near 90-minute doc showcases the icon’s rise from her humble beginnings as a Puerto Rican Latina growing up in the Bronx to the world’s largest stage, as she works tirelessly to achieve stardom and, frankly, respect. And after two decades of perseverance, continuously clearing whatever hurdle or bar or wall the industry tried to place in her way, J. Lo proves—well, that she has nothing left to prove.
“I feel like my life is just beginning,” she says at the beginning of the doc, which opens with her blowing out the candles for her 50th birthday. The film then cuts forward six months, as J.Lo’s about to take the stage for the biggest live performance of her life—the Super Bowl 2020 Halftime Show. Lopez’s insane work ethic is on full display as she rises to the occasion under a massive amount of pressure, at 50 years old. And that tenacity has arguably been the driving force of her entire career.
J.Lo’s journey to stardom began after a dramatic exit from her family home. The family’s matriarch, Guadalupe, admits that out of her three daughters, it was Jennifer, the middle child and future superstar, who gave her the most trouble. The pair clashed over Lopez’s desire to be a working dancer instead of pursuing her education, and the tension eventually forced an 18-year-old Lopez to leave home.
Growing up in a household run by a strict mom who spanked her kids, J.Lo was plagued by insecurities. She feared she wasn’t good enough as her sisters, one of whom was considered the talented singer of the family and the other the brilliant one, while Lopez was underestimated as just kind of athletic, with maybe some dancing capabilities.
But in 1990, Lopez landed her first big break as a Fly Girl dancer on In Living Color. The exposure she received from being on the popular sketch comedy show inspired her to keep flexing her acting chops, and in 1997, she was cast in Selena, where she wowed both fans and critics with her stunning portrayal of the beloved Queen of Tejano music Selena Quintanilla Pérez. The role famously jumpstarted her movie career.
All these early snapshots paint a vibrant portrait of the young Latina’s struggle to prove to the world, her family and herself that she has what it takes to make it in showbiz. And this stretch of Halftime really shows how Lopez came to become a raging machine of unrelenting ambition.
She also calls out how, early in her career, she became a tabloid favorite—but only because of the men she loved and lost, and her generous derrière. Lopez describes how that chaotic period made it difficult to take herself seriously as an artist, and how it killed her self-esteem and made her doubt her capabilities. Ben Affleck has a quick cameo where he recalls asking Lopez about how she deals with the harassment from the press. Her response? “I’m Latina, I expected this.”
Flash forward again to the present day, where Lopez is in the midst of preparing for her Super Bowl performance, when she learns she has to share the stage with Shakira, another fiery Latina. She immediately declares it the “worst idea in the world,” and her manager, Benny Medina, echoes the sentiment: “It was an insult to say you needed two Latinas to do the job that one artist historically has done.”
But there was no stopping the vision that Lopez had created for that show, in salute to her heritage. As a proud Puerto Rican from the Bronx who achieved her version of the American Dream, Lopez fought to ensure that her performance would deliver a message about what it means to be American—amid the bigotry of the Trump administration, which was still raging at the time. And that performance was, of course, a showstopper.
Lopez in Halftime is not an aging superstar who’s past her prime—she’s simply a real person who worked her ass off, succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams and continues to do so. When asked why she never gave up in the face of adversity, Lopez says, “I had to really figure out who I was and believe in that, and not believe anything else.”
Universally great advice, and mission accomplished.