J.Lo’s film is what happens when you’re subject to a lifetime of tabloid scrutiny

For some, ‘This is Me… Now’ will feel self-indulgent. But doesn’t J.Lo deserve to take control of her own narrative?

Back in January, singer and actress Jennifer Lopez released the trailer for This is Me… Now. While we’ve come to know that the film is basically a feature-length music video, when it first dropped on the 17th, it set the internet ablaze. “What the f did I just watch? Disturbing [sic]” reads one tweet. Another branded it (the slightly kinder) “camp insanity”. Essentially, responses to the trailer – which featured dystopian dance numbers and a promised cast of everyone from Kim Petras to Derek Hough – were split. And when it came to preview screenings of This is Me… Now, the reception was more or less the same. Reviews calling the film “powerful” sat alongside those calling it “the essence of a vanity project”. But lurking within even the harshest takes on This is Me… Now was a semblance of the idea that Lopez had earned the right to partake in some heavy-handed introspection. Considering the multi-hyphenate has spent most of her life being harpooned by the press for both her professional and personal pursuits, This is Me… Now might just be Lopez taking control of the narrative.

Most of us have come to know J.Lo via magazine covers and the lens of mums that inexplicably (or rather explicably) dislike her. But if we were to take a more impartial look at the life at the centre of This is Me… Now, it might be something like this: Jennifer Lopez was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents. She made her television debut in the early ‘90s, transitioned to film not long after, and gave music a go in the early 2000s. And she’s basically acted and sung (and danced) her way into the zeitgeist from then until now. J.Lo has also tied the knot four times, and had a multitude of high-profile relationships outside that. We’re popping that in not because it’s tabloid gold – though, admittedly, it is – but because it’s a central theme of her film. “This was about a hopeless romantic’s journey through life in her search for love,” said Lopez herself in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. 

But punctuating (and often overshadowing) all of that is what you could call a toxic relationship with the press. Despite keeping the very cogs turning – it was Lopez’s Grammys dress that led to the creation of Google Images back in 2002 – she was made the subject of intense ridicule time and time again. And that came to a head with the release of Gigli. The film, which saw her and Ben Affleck play hitmen, was critically panned, and came at a time when Lopez was at her most famous. Clothing line and makeup collection in tow, Lopez became Hollywood’s punching bag: the archetypal “diva”. In a newsletter from Lopez, she talked about suffering “a nervous breakdown” around this time. 

The incessant slander that gained momentum with the release of Gigli didn’t necessarily have the desired effect. While Lopez (and her perpetually sad beau) have spent a decent amount of time denouncing the media and its role in the demise of their relationship the first time round, J.Lo didn’t exactly go full Britney. If anything, it became common thought that Lopez had formed a quasi-transactional relationship with the press, something that’s persisted until today. Stumble across a video of Bennifer taking a stroll and you’ll bear witness to people furthering the narrative that Lopez is a fame-hungry whore and Affleck is some lowly depressive that’s forced to go along with it. “LMAOOOOO nah Ben tired of her shit [sic]” reads one tweet. “It’s like she’s draining him. I bet she’s so exhausting to be around,” says another

For her fans, Lopez’s dysfunctional fling with fame has played a role in what some would consider a career defined by being consistently underestimated. Yes, J.Lo has dominated headlines, but that hasn’t made for a career worth “serious” accolades. Despite early on pushing the boundaries of Latinx representation (Selena) and earning acclaim for her performance in select romance films, she’s been relegated to projects which feel like someone high-up in Hollywood is still punishing her for Gigli. See: Marry Me. See also: Monster-in-Law. See: most J.Lo films. And when she does get the same kinds of opportunities as her counterparts, they don’t quite get the attention they deserve. It’s widely held that Lopez was snubbed by the Academy for her role in Hustlers, and fans have long said that J.Lo having to share her Super Bowl halftime spot with Shakira was a disservice to the two stars. If anything, it made two Latinx artists into an offensive homogenous mass. Read all of that back, and This is Me… Now makes a lot more sense. If anything, it feels almost inevitable. If you’re subject to an existence that’s carved out by rags that will line litter boxes just hours after they’ve hit stands, you’re going to feel a bit angry. You’re going to want to take control.

But can Lopez’s charmed existence really be that bad? When it comes to how we perceive A-listers, we flit between thinking it must be hard to have a camera shoved in your face, to feeling like that’s alright in comparison to famine and poverty. But in recent years, it’s gained currency that the traumatising experience of being a celeb in the TMZ age isn’t to be scoffed at. Though it has lost its potency as it has transformed into a dependable symbol of “fame gone wrong,” it is difficult to forget moments like when Britney Spears shaved her head. “I’d been eyeballed so much growing up,” the singer writes in her memoir The Woman in Me. “Shaving my head and acting out were my ways of pushing back”.

Also, Lopez isn’t really doing anything wildly new. While her delivery is a little left-field, This is Me… Now is just another entry into an already wildly popular genre. It follows suit of Gaga: Five Foot Two, Miss Americana, and Justin Bieber: Our World. If anything, we should probably give Lopez some credit for being so fearless with the “bonkers” rendition of her love-life. With music docs like the aforementioned three becoming increasingly formulaic – The Guardian called Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana “too stage-managed to truly sing” – J.Lo’s efforts are a breath of fresh air.

Some of the grievances directed towards This is Me… Now do feel warranted. There are definitely better ways of spending $20 million, the amount Lopez purportedly put into the three-part project. But it probably just highlights our culture of misogyny that the self-indulgence of her film makes headlines while her male counterparts do the same, and no-one bats an eyelid. While we don’t want to pit them against each other (National Enquirer did that enough back in the early 2000s), we’d say it’s pertinent that in the same week Lopez’s film is being picked apart by every cultural commentator, it’s gone under the radar that Affleck made $10 million for a thirty second Dunkin Donuts commercial. It’s a discrepancy that reveals there’s some glaring double standards at play. In one of the most jarring instances of this, a resurfaced clip from Conan saw host O’Brien orchestrate a skit satirising the Bennifer breakup, casting Lopez as a maid. It was obviously a call back to Maid in Manhattan, but it feels certifiably icky given how entrenched it is that Latina women only work these kinds of jobs. And it’s a testament to the fact that, despite setting world records for her music and paving the way for Latinx representation in Hollywood, Lopez will always be reduced to something lesser than both her white and male counterparts. 

Writer
Amber Rawlings
Banner Image Credit
This Is Me... Now / Amazon