We have come to the end of the Jennifer Lopez season of the Ten Movies podcast, having grown a little wiser and having watched a lot of middling films, along with a couple of truly wretched ones.
One thing you see when watching a lot of her movies and thinking about her public persona is the extent to which film is simply one of the many things she does. She’s possibly the purest “star” in American culture: she sings, she acts, she does Superbowl halftime shows, she has clothing lines and cosmetics lines and fragrance lines, you name it. Her fame comes from her skill and reputation as a performer, rather than from any one type of performance. Movies may simply be an aspect of marketing for her, a loss-leader that creates brand equity. Certainly most of the movies we watched functioned largely in that space.
The thing of it is, though, Jennifer Lopez is an incredibly capable actor. In (nearly) every episode we observed that she was 1) pretty good, actually and 2) better than the material. She’s not particularly skilled as a comic actor, but in dramatic roles, she’s great – grounded, believable, restrained and inviting empathy. Even in action-ish roles, you never bump on her performance. When the giant snake comes after her in ‘Anaconda‘, you get a pretty real sense of how someone might react to being pursued by a giant snake.
In most of her better movies, too, there was a strong set of traits she embodies: grit, toughness, being hot, competence and a working-class resilience. And while maybe it would have been nice to see her in some roles where she wasn’t playing a struggling Latina mom with a hardened exterior but a heart of gold, it’s rare to see those kinds of characters in a big-budget movie.
Still, though, the movies we watched mostly ranged from adequate to bad to literally the worst. Maybe she makes poor choices or has terrible luck. Maybe women in Hollywood aren’t offered the same kinds of roles as men, particularly women of color. Maybe she likes making the kinds of movies she makes. It’s hard to say.
We were heartened by the fact that the best movie and her strongest performance in any of the films we watched was ‘Hustlers‘ – the most recent on the list. She’s great in it as world-class stripper and criminal mastermind dressed like a barbarian queen in a gold bikini and a gigantic fur coat. She also served as executive producer for the film, so maybe we’re in for some truly great Jennifer Lopez movies.
Here’s what we watched:
Anaconda. An early career B movie in which J Lo and Ice Cube are chased by a giant snake being manipulated by a demented, scenery-chewing Jon Voigt. Our review: If you like giant snake movies, you will like Anaconda.
Selena. A thorough and deeply-reverent biopic about the rise of a beloved young Mexican-American pop singer who died tragically, co-starring Edward James Olmos in a pitch-perfect role as her father. Our review: An important American story but a dull movie more concerned with lionizing Selena than portraying her.
Out of Sight. A sexy Steven Soderbergh thriller that wasn’t really sexy or thrilling enough for us, putting J Lo across from George Clooney in a convoluted robbery involving various factions of thuggish misfits. Our review: If you like stylish Soderbergh heist capers, you should probably just watch ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ again.
Maid in Manhattan. A J Lo staple in which her character is an ur-text for the kinds of characters she often plays – a working-class Latina mom with a heart of gold who is mistaken for a member of the ruling class. Sadly, the handsome prince for whom she falls is played by a miscast Ralph Fiennes in a criminally bland performance. Our review: We loved Jennifer Lopez’s character and liked the movie’s strong point-of-view on the class divide, but couldn’t get over how boring Fiennes was.
Gigli. An ill-conceived and bafflingly poorly-written romance/thriller starring J Lo and Ben Affleck as Mafia-adjacent kidnappers, widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made. But surely it can’t be that terrible, right? Our review: Wow, yes, it’s exactly as terrible as you’ve heard. What the hell?
U Turn. While we agreed that ‘Gigli’ was the worse film, Oliver Stone’s ‘U Turn’ – an overstuffed, violent mess of a movie in which Sean Penn plays a horrible man struggling to escape a horrible town filled with horrible people – was the one we least enjoyed watching. Our review: Painfully, graphically, upsettingly brutal to no obvious end. Do not watch this movie.
Shall We Dance? A light, low-stakes little movie in which Richard Gere learns to love ballroom dancing. Sadly, Jennifer Lopez, while featured prominently in the marketing, doesn’t really have much to do here. Our review: Hemal liked it. Brian thought it was fine.
Hustlers. A critical and commercial success featuring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu leading a band of strippers who carry out increasingly criminal acts in the wake of the 2008 recession. Our review: Fun to watch and with a strong point of view, plus J Lo kills it.
The Wedding Planner. Technically this is not one of the ten movies, as it was disqualified by virtue of having been featured as one of the ten movies in the recent Matthew McConaughey season of the podcast. But it’s one of J Lo’s most-loved romantic comedies, so we threw it into this season’s stream as a bonus episode. Our review: Many people think fondly of this movie, possibly due to Stockholm syndrome from seeing it every Sunday on TBS, but we were put off by the film asking us to simply not notice that McConaughey’s character is a class-A jerkwad.
Parker. A generic mid-budget action-thriller starring Jason Statham as a generic mid-budget action star and Jennifer Lopez as his amoral sidekick as they run around Miami chasing jewel thieves or something. Our review: A reasonably valid choice if you’re doing laundry or riding an airplane.
Second Act. A comedy/drama about a hard-working outer-borough gal who fakes her resume in order to ascend the heights of corporate America with her street smarts and ends up bonding with the daughter she once gave up for adoption. Our review: A microcosm of J Lo’s film career, in which she is better than the movie around her.