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Jennifer Lopez’s Second Act Is Proof She’s Our Modern-Day Elizabeth Taylor

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2020 was supposed to be Jennifer Lopez’s year. Everyone thought she was a shoo-in for the best supporting actress Oscar after her turn as stripper-scammer Ramona Vega in Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, and she headlined the Super Bowl halftime show with Shakira a month before the world shut down. The latter is the subject of new Netflix documentary Halftime that aired earlier this month, in what has already been a stellar year for the triple threat superstar, from her re-engagement to Ben Affleck to February’s Marry Me — a return to form for our rom-com queen.

Halftime is ostensibly named for the Super Bowl halftime show, but it also signifies the halfway mark in Lopez’s long career: She turned 50 in 2019, 29 years after her breakout role on TV, and 2020 made it clear that her second act is only just taking off. In Halftime, Lopez opens up about how she’s felt constantly underestimated as an actress and how, with Hustlers, she finally got recognition as a serious artist as opposed to tabloid fodder. It’s a moment of reckoning for the superstar in the Netflix documentary, and it’s an opportunity for us to reckon with our handling of her too. In her second act, Lopez hasn’t just reclaimed Ben Affleck — she’s reclaimed her legacy as a modern-day Elizabeth Taylor.

The comparison itself is nothing new. In the early aughts especially, the tabloids loved to compare Lopez’s personal life (if not acting abilities) to the violet-eyed glamazon who was infamous for her eight marriages, two of which were to actor Richard Burton. Lopez had several high-profile relationships and marriages in quick succession in those years, marrying Ojani Noa in 1997, Cris Judd in 2001, and Marc Anthony in 2004, plus her (first) engagement to Affleck in 2002.

There’s a running theme in Lopez’s films that also mirrors Elizabeth Taylor’s work: no matter how enigmatic the leading man she’s paired against, the film ends up acting as a vehicle for Lopez and Lopez alone. J.Lo has starred in rom-coms alongside an assortment of white Hollywood leading men including Matthew McConaughey (The Wedding Planner), Ralph Fiennes (Maid in Manhattan), Richard Gere (Shall We Dance?), Michael Vartan (Monster-in-Law), Alex O’Loughlin (The Back-Up Plan) and Milo Ventimiglia (Second Act) — all of whom, opposite Lopez, become interchangeable (we offer a slight exception for George Clooney in Out of Sight). Similarly, Taylor has shared the screen with such leading men as Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift, and Richard Burton. And while all the actors on this list, on their own and in plenty of other films, are at the top of their game, it’s Elizabeth Taylor and Jennifer Lopez whose faces you’ll remember when you think of their classic films.

So: The stage has long been set for comparisons between Lopez and Taylor, first as oft-engaged starlets in films their critics were happy to write off. But Taylor enjoyed a later-in-life resurgence to the status of cultural icon, and Lopez is now well on her way to enjoying the same.

As Lopez moves into the second half of her career, it’s the culmination of a long road to re-shift the focus on her own talents and away from her relationships. Her notoriety dissipated a little from the tabloids frenzy of the ’00s in the 2010s, when she focused on building her fragrance empire, Las Vegas residencies, and judging American Idol like many of her pop star ilk, as well as raising her twins, Maximilian and Emme, with third husband Anthony.

Then, “at 42, newly divorced and a single mother, I didn’t know what my value was anymore,” she says in Halftime. “I did American Idol, and it was good for me at that time. People could see me for who I was.”

She was back with a vengeance in 2019 with her aforementioned role in Hustlers, for which she received 31 best supporting actress nominations from all major awards bodies — except the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And now, 20 years and change after J.Lo became a household name with her high-profile relationships and soapy rom-coms, she’s both more reputable and more accessible than ever, returning to our living rooms with the Super Bowl, Halftime, Marry Meand more.

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Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Cleopatra’ ©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection.

In Halftime, Lopez explains how the fact that she hadn’t been taken seriously as an actress and an artist drove her to prove the haters wrong throughout her career. Similarly, Elizabeth Taylor was mostly considered eye candy during her Hollywood tenure, with her personal life overshadowing her own prolific career. Later roles in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would garner her award recognition — after she’d already been in the business for 15 to 20 years, much like Lopez’s role in Hustlers. Her infamy for being married eight times may still spring to mind first when it comes to Elizabeth Taylor, but she has a reputation for being underestimated too, and the cultural permanence of a capital-S Star — and that’s exactly what J.Lo has been solidifying too in recent years.

So far, it’s going exceptionally well. J.Lo has reemerged at the top of the A-list, a shift we can attribute in part to how we’ve re-examined 2000s tabloid culture in the decades since, and ruminated on how unfairly women in particular were treated by the media. Now, we’re eager to give Lopez (and Britney Spears, and Monica Lewinsky, and so many more) their due, just as Taylor later saw a resurgence of interest in taking her seriously. And Lopez seems to have a clear vision of what’s important to her as she re-defines herself decades after she first stepped into the spotlight.

I’ve always felt J.Lo radiates a maternal, feminine, girl’s girl energy so it’s no surprise that the movies in which she and her fellow cast members shine the most are those that deal with female relationships rather than heterosexual romantic ones, like Hustlers, Monster-in-Law, and Second Act. Though one of those things is not like the others, the bright spots of the latter two are Lopez’s chemistry with the titular monster-in-law, played by Jane Fonda, and her long-lost biological daughter, played by Vanessa Hudgens, in Second Act. In Lopez’s real-life second act, she’ll be focusing more on those important female relationships too.

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Jane Fonda, Jennifer Lopez in ‘Monster-in-Law’ ©New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett Collection.

At the heart of Halftime is Lopez’s Super Bowl performance with Shakira — and while some mistakenly believed Lopez was expressing disdain about sharing the halftime show with the Colombian singer, the camaraderie displayed between the two Latina superstars both behind the scenes and on the field was nothing short of inspiring throughout. Women’s power was the centerpiece of Lopez’s vision for the performance, from featuring the dance troupe of young girls to the female symbol on the field of America’s quintessential display of masculinity.

Perhaps that’s why the men of J.Lo’s life were featured so sparsely in Halftime. Apart from a brief comment from Affleck, none of Lopez’s exes are a part of the documentary — not Marc Anthony, the father of her prominently featured children, and not Alex Rodriguez, to whom Lopez was engaged during filming. Like Elizabeth Taylor, Lopez has shared the spotlight with her other halves for too long, fielded questions exclusively about her relationships for too long. At a moment when the media seems self-aware and interested in leaving some of its worst tendencies behind, J.Lo is being clear about where she’d like attention focused Just like Elizabeth Taylor, Lopez may have her pick of men, but she doesn’t need a man to reign alongside her. In her second act, J.Lo’s keeping the spotlight on herself.

Before you go, click here to see actresses over 50 who are more successful now than ever.
Jennifer Lopez, Sandra Bullock

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