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‘This Is Me…Now: A Love Story’ Review: Jennifer Lopez Gets Personal

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Jennifer Lopez has spent the better part of her career navigating the two halves of her public persona: Bronx-born girl next door “Jenny from the block” and Hollywood power player “J.Lo.” Though much of the tension between the two has been amplified by media coverage that spans calculated marketing campaigns and inescapable paparazzi scrutiny, Lopez has frequently seemed to capitulate to whichever of the two serves her best at the time.

“This is Me…Now: A Love Story” is, on its face, the visual component of her self-funded ninth studio album, and at a reported $20 million price tag it’s easy to see it first and foremost as an advertisement. But as not only the subject but star, co-writer and executive producer of an interlinked series of music videos, Lopez showcases above all else how tough it is to express oneself personally after more than 30 years in the public eye, resulting in a just-shy-of-feature-length film that offers much to admire even if it’s not fully successful.

Opening with the telling of the Puerto Rican myth of Alida and Taroo, lovers transformed into a flower and a hummingbird, Lopez (as “The Artist”) examines her own addiction to love, and the risks that come with falling hard, and fast, seemingly every time there’s an opportunity. Given the bookends of the new album with its 2002 predecessor “This is Me…Then,” which was conceived the first time she and her now-spouse Ben Affleck were dating, it comes as a surprise that Affleck appears only in silhouette as the lover whose motorcycle she gets thrown from as they hurtle across a magic-hour landscape. (That said, he also pops up in heavy makeup as a newscaster, but his contributions to “Now” are minimal.)

Their crash propels the Artist immediately into “Hearts and Flowers,” which takes place in a factory-like cavern where the fire in her heart is in danger of extinguishing. The third metaphor for love in less than five minutes, it sets the stage for Lopez to leverage her life — and more precisely, the accounts of her life reported by the media — to plumb the depths of the aphorism “before you can truly love someone else you have to learn to love yourself.” Lopez subsequently dances her way through a series of trials to rekindle the machinery of her heart, but even supported by co-writers Chris Shafer and Dave Meyers (the latter also directing), she proves a more formidable showperson than truth-teller.

It isn’t that Lopez seems insincere; far from it. Few artists at her level are willing to spotlight the ups and downs of their private lives, and in comparison to, say, Beyonce and Jay-Z’s too-frequently superficial supergroup victory-lap “Everything is Love,” you can feel her not just trying to lay bare her experiences but leave room for the countless reactions and opinions to those experience from others. But it’s also what leads to the ambitious but slightly unwieldy structure of “This is Me…Now,” which features a chorus of astrological signs (played by Trevor Noah, Jane Fonda, Post Malone, Keke Palmer, Trevor Noah, Jenifer Lewis, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sofia Vergara and more) watching from on high, a therapist played by fellow Bronx native and frequent collaborator Fat Joe, a Love Addicts Anonymous group led by Paul Raci, a cattily-supportive friend group and a revolving door of romantic partners played by numerous dancers (Derek Hough) and actors (Trevor Jackson).

What shakes out between the layers of the Artist’s reality is the sense that Lopez wants to be fully transparent — that when she says “This Is Me,” she means it. She begins the film by saying, “What I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always … in love.” The music video segments further reiterate this: escaping the glass house of an abusive relationship in “Rebound”; cycling through three weddings simultaneously during “Can’t Get Enough” while her closest confidantes uneasily attempt to support her; pouring feelings out interpreted by fellow therapy-seekers on “Broken Like Me”; showing love to her childhood self with “This is Me… Now.” But Lopez is also, at her essence, a performer. How willing actually is she not just to be honest, but to be wrong, or even actively unappealing? It’s unclear.

It’s hard not to empathize with her, but ultimately it’s clear to Lopez that “being in love with love” is a more or less unambiguously good thing. The astrological signs and her circle of friends both wring their hands at her unhappiness, but she answers their questions and criticisms, and otherwise resolves her own insecurities by learning clichéd lessons. Toward the end of the film, she performs her new song “Midnight Trip to Vegas,” inspired by Lopez’s real-life quickie wedding to Affleck, where she experiences the same nuptial conclusion as “Sex and the City” protagonist Carrie Bradshaw, another woman who was by her own measure too often in love with love. In which case, Lopez’s latest project evidences an artist who wants to be fearless and open, but who also understands the impact a good story — a narrative. And rather than relatability and superstardom, those are the values that Lopez needs to reconcile.

To be fair, it feels like a person who’s generated her level of fame and success and attention will never truly be “knowable” to an ordinary person. But “This Is Me…Now: A Love Story” is the closest that they’ll likely come, and it’s a testament to Lopez’s talent that she’s able to take pop-star wisdom and make it seem like a window into her soul.

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