High on J.Lo

A great many actresses try their best to come across as “hot” in the movies. A staggering number of them, to put it charitably, often come up short in all but the most superficial of ways. Now, that’s not a problem for a guy looking to satisfy the most superficial of pleasures, but we need more than just good looks, too…don’t we?

Sure we do. And that’s why it sure can hurt when a gal with the all-encompassing, old-fashioned star wattage of Jennifer Lopez appears to sacrifice what could have been a long and glorious career as a full-time, big-screen leading lady for…well, for the girl’s spot on the American Idol panel.

It’s not usually that simple, obviously. Unless a working actor goes out of his or her way to actually announce a vocation-altering decision—hey, I’m so over this acting stuff—it’s just so much career quarterbacking from the sidelines to natter on and on about how one of your favorites “should” be doing this type of movie, that level of project, and so on. The movie business has a funny way of evolving every performer’s career, with a dizzying number of variables coming into play that don’t always have to do with exactly what the actor may or may not desire.

That means I’m not here to say J.Lo, how dare you. Or, J.Lo, you are letting us down. Or even J.Lo, please please pretty please, let Quentin Tarantino work his Travolta Voodoo on you and launch you back to big-screen superstardom where you belong.

I’m just here to say: J.Lo, if you never come back to the art house or multiplex, it sure was fun while it lasted. But do come back. Make them make room for you.

Who knew that Lopez, who got started as one of the Fly Girls from In Living Color, would have such a steamy impact on the movies, only to kiss them goodbye for the most part to more fully embrace music, fashion, philanthropy, and the chair once occupied by Paula Abdul?

Typically, an actor works his or her way up to the challenge of playing a real person on the big screen. No doubt J.Lo thought to herself, Peter O’Toole did it, why can’t I? So should it be any surprise that the Bronx-born Lopez made such a smashing debut as a leading star in the 1997 biopic of Tejano singing sensation Selena?

Rather than provide a straightforward filmography, though, I’m going to instead offer up three pictures I feel more than adequately demonstrate the impresionante de Lopez:

Blood & Wine

The year before she exploded into the public consciousness via Selena, the creator of Glow by J.Lo was sparring with none other than Jack Nicholson, acing a challenging supporting role in a bitter and literate film noir from director Bob Rafelson, the man responsible for Jack’s titanic early star turn in Five Easy Pieces. Playing the nanny of a wealthy household who comes between scheming wine dealer Nicholson and his rebellious stepson, Lopez takes what, in a lesser picture, might have been written (or portrayed) as the standard femme fatale role and delivers something much more nuanced and compelling. In a film where nobody has any scruples to speak of, Lopez becomes a lone anchor for our empathy.

Jennifer Lopez in Anaconda (1997)


Surely a candidate for examination by Julian André’s Craptastic Cinema if ever there was one, this 1997 creature feature showcases our Latina Lord Olivier as a documentary film director (a vocation dear to my heart) venturing into the Amazon wilderness with a motley crew that comes to include Jon Voight. Voight’s hilariously strange accent in the film represents an underappreciated high point in the Midnight Cowboy’s own screen career, marking his take on the “Quint” character as one of his most entertaining performances before the once-liberal dad to Angelina Jolie took to the Cinema Conservatives’ campaign trail alongside Chuck Norris (not literally). But let’s get back to Lopez. We’re in the jungle, she’s sweaty, and she’s doing battle with a hungry snake. Make all the lewd jokes you want, but Lopez is all too frequently left out of the customary lists of great horror flick heroines, and she proved with this crazy thriller that she had the skills to wallow in genre filmmaking (as she also does in Tarsem’s alarmingly weird serial killer opus The Cell) and emerge unscathed (unswallowed?) by its often-lowly reputation.

I steered clear of the Lopez-less sequels, which I’m sure had plenty of the snake, but probably none of the sizzle.

Out of Sight

Now we get to it. Steven Soderbergh‘s 1998 adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel remains the definitive Lopez picture, and I think I am secure in making that statement not having seen Enough, The Wedding Planner, or Maid in Manhattan. In this rewardingly smart caper film, Lopez plays U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco, who gets entangled in the affairs of bank robber George Clooney.

Sandra Bullock was at one time considered for Lopez’ part. I shudder to think of it, no disrespect intended to the gal who made Speed twice as fun as it had any right to be. Lopez and Clooney create old-school screen fireworks here worthy of unforgettable team-ups like Grant/Bergman in Hitch’s Notorious.

Anybody who can pull focus from the very charismatic Clooney is a real player. The movie cost $48 million and did less than twice that worldwide. This is what they call a genuine shame. If I had an unlimited supply of cash to bankroll movies, I’d pony up the checks to produce flop after flop if they turned out like this.

Yes, Lopez has appeared in movies as currently as 2010 (The Back-Up Plan). I admit, I haven’t kept pace at all with what we could reasonably label her competing career arc of chick flick fluff. So, does that invalidate my claim that she’s turned her back on film?

Lopez was absent from big-screen roles for three full years (2007-09). In 2010, she booked an appearance on the television show How I Met Your Mother and starred in the aforementioned Back-Up Plan; Alex O’Loughlin was her co-star in that romantic comedy. He may be a fine actor (and writer and producer), but there’s a not-completely-crazy comparison to be made here to the world of boxing, which is to say that Lopez should be stepping into the ring with other heavyweights, and often, to toughen her up and give the world a great, not just a good, show.

Was it the highly-publicized train wreck called Gigli? Come on: Jane Fonda was in Monster-in-Law, too. But every once in a while, let’s balance fare like that out with the occasional China Syndrome. Or Agnes of God. Or Barbarella. (Hey, you know, that last one isn’t such a bad idea…)

Think I’m full of it when it comes to my high estimation of People’s Most Beautiful Woman in the World? Verifiable fact: When I emerged from an opening night screening of Raising Arizona, I said: She’s (Holly Hunter) going to win the Oscar.

(I said exactly the same thing about Kate Winslet after watching Jude. But I must say, The Reader is not the film I’d have chosen to recognize her prodigious talents.)

Lopez could be following the trajectory we saw with Charlize Theron, another impossibly beautiful actress who could have coasted on being worshiped only as a sex goddess, but demonstrated she had the chops to be taken very seriously onscreen.

J.Lo, I know como ama una mujer is indeed a mystery, and you may have all sorts of reasons for focusing less on movies than your many other pursuits, but it’s an even deeper mystery why cinema’s ever-fickle audiences, cash-hungry corporate behemoths, and visionary artists seeking to reclaim the luminous glories of Hollywood past aren’t supplicating themselves at your feet and clamoring for more. And better.

Jennifer Lopez is, right now, one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses. I guess all I’m really asking is that the folks on the other side of the camera make those paychecks truly worth it, and push the material she deserves to the surface.

J.Lo, let’s tussle!