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J. Lo and Behold: Is She for Real?

Sometimes levity does achieve liftoff. Sometimes, Lopez can trick you into believing that life should be a parka hood with a mile of fur trim or a giant house with your nickname tiled all over in knockoff glamour. But if “This Is Me … Now” is to be believed, it’s a mansion for one. She has only ever wanted to give us what she’s wanted for herself yet never convincingly attained: comfort.

Lopez wants, needs, hungers, craves, desires, seeks, pines, wishes, dreams, hopes, believes, yearns, aches, hustles. You can see all of that in the hard violence of her dancing — nothing comes easy, nothing flows. It’s a lot of bursts and breaks. (Here, she even keeps in the sound of the dancer’s rustling fabric.) For 30 years she’s been at this: Mere entertainment might not be enough. Lopez has always seemed out to prove, rarely to savor, relish or bask. On the 23-year-old remix of her hit song “I’m Real,” Lopez coos that second word, transforming it from a declaration of fact to a matter of existential doubt.

“This Is Me … Now” could easily have been fashioned as a pure valentine to her current husband, Ben Affleck; the album makes room for one, “Dear Ben, Pt. II.” Instead, Affleck can be found barking under coats of makeup as a cable news troll. Why not get him — or some other star — right next to her in a good romantic drama instead of what Lopez can be seen doing here, curling up on a huge couch mouthing Barbra Streisand’s lines in “The Way We Were”? Streisand’s heart-wrenched seriousness could be Lopez’s. She shares the artistic self-determinism that Streisand embodies, but opts to treat that strength like karaoke.

As a steward of her own image, Lopez might not believe she has ever deserved relief, stability, happiness, a bath. A striver with a “restless heart,” as she puts it here, is simply who she is. Trying hard is what she knows. The most fascinating aspect of those newish Affleck Dunkin’ ads — all right, one of the fascinating aspects — is that the Boston lunk he’s playing finds himself auditioning for her, doing his endearingly embarrassing best to make a good musical impression. That guy knows what Dr. Joe and the Celebrity Zodiac don’t. Worth and worthiness might be Lopez’s love language.

The sad news is that nothing in “This Is Me … Now” is as fun — or funny — as those commercials. This project doesn’t seem to have brought Lopez any closer to serenity or levity. It’s an occasion for even more toil. Again: She cast herself and a bunch of women to labor in a literal love factory, and the conditions are hazardous. No matter how powerful and playful Lopez seems on the live stage — in Las Vegas or in the concert scenes in her romantic comedy from two years ago, “Marry Me,” or during her 2020 Super Bowl halftime show with Shakira — she often seems unsure in the movies, torn about how big or small, quiet or radiant to be. She seems stressed, maybe even neurotic. (She has also put her fictional self on a shrink’s couch.) With a live performer, you want unquenchable. You’re paying for Category 5 Force of Nature. But an actor needs at least a few scenes of believable rest, and onscreen, she can rarely, reliably locate peace.

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