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This is Me ... Now: A Love Story

Fairy tale music swells as an ornate storybook fills the screen. "Have you ever heard the story of Alida and Taroo?," asks star Jennifer Lopez with a compelling earnestness. The storybook’s illustrations come to life as Lopez proceeds to narrate the Puerto Rican myth about star-crossed lovers from warring tribes who are transformed by the gods into a red flower and blue hummingbird. Lopez, who wrote and conceived "This Is Me … Now: A Love Story" a companion film to her first album in a decade (also called This Is Me … Now), uses this myth to trace the ups and downs of her own life which seems, at last, to have found its own fairy tale ending through her romantic reunion with and marriage to Ben Affleck (who makes a very cheeky cameo reminiscent of his 2008 SNL appearance mocking Keith Olbermann.)

After this magical prelude, the story cuts to J. Lo on the back of a motorcycle, her face pure bliss as she holds tightly to the driver while the two careen down a picturesque mountainous beachscape. That is until the motorcycle crashes, the two separate, and the picture crumbles, leaving Lopez stranded in an apocalyptic steampunk heart factory. Here we get the film’s first musical interlude "Hearts and Flowers," its lyrics as cheesy and earnest as Lopez's narration. "I made it through the rain, the trauma and the pain," she sings as she and the factory workers — styled a la Fritz Lang's "Metropolis” — frenetically work to refill the breaking metal heart with the petals of red flowers, all which seem to have wilted away. 

Although Lopez's vocals have a little too much autotune for my taste, her dance moves are as energetic and crisp as ever. In the sequence set to the song "Rebound," couples residing in a glass house are bound to each other with pieces of long, colored cloth. When they pull away, the cloth yanks them back together like yo-yos, in choreography in the Tanztheater style pioneered by the late German modern dancer Pina Bausch. Another sequence set in a group therapy session draws inspiration from “Mein Herr” from “Cabaret,” with Lopez bringing a stripped-down emotional rawness to the choreography.

The film weaves back and forth between these dreamlike sequences set to tracks from her new album, therapy sessions Lopez has with her good friend Fat Joe, and some truly unhinged moments with a group of astrological stars (played by literal stars Jane Fonda, Post Malone, Keke Palmer, Jennifer Lewis, Kim Petras, Jay Shetty, Sofia Vergara, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Trevor Noah, and Sadhguru) known as the Zodiacal Council. Although each star plays one of the corresponding Zodiac signs, hilariously there is no representation for Aquarius or Capricorn. I'll let the astrology girlies figure that one out. Of these vignettes the ones with Fat Joe work the best due to his calming energy and the strong rapport after decades of professional collaborations and friendship. Oscar-nominee Paul Raci also brings his steadfast presence to one of the more successful vignettes as the leader of a Romantics Anonymous group therapy session.

Along with using the lyrics of her songs and the film's visuals as both a therapy session and confessional about the star's personal life, Lopez also explores how aspects of her filmography were part of her romantic self-expression, for better or for worse. The visuals accompanying the album's first single "Can't Get Enough" not only poke fun at Lopez's three failed marriages, they also play around with her star persona in romantic comedies (especially wedding-set ones like "The Wedding Planner,” “Marry Me,” and "Shotgun Wedding"). Later a cheesy monologue she delivers about believing in soulmates is interrupted by Fat Joe saying time is up for their session and after yet another breakup she's seen watching "The Way We Were" mouthing along to Barbra Streisand's lines. Part of what made her such an alluring romance star came from Lopez being herself a hopeless romantic. She brings an open tenderness to her rom-com roles because she understands them, and she understands fans of them. She never once looks down on the genre as something lesser. 

"This Is Me … Now: A Love Story" is both a therapeutic confessional and a grand, romantic fantasy. Unfortunately, it is often hindered by lackluster CGI visuals, uneven editing, and awkward staging and camera set ups. Director Dave Meyers just doesn't ever quite have a handle on Lopez's vision. In an homage to "Singin' in the Rain" Lopez perfectly matches Gene Kelly's glee in that film’s iconic rain scene, yet the way Meyers frames the star muffles the scene's intended magic. 

Regardless of its technical faults, there is bravery here as Lopez opens up her old wounds for all to see, sharing her biggest mistakes, her deepest scars, and the work she put in to heal herself first, before she could be ready for the love story that she grew up so desperately wishing for. That she keeps her happy ending all to herself might leave some viewers cold, but I think after decades of intense media scrutiny nearly tearing them apart, Bennifer 2.0 have earned their quiet little place in the sun.

On Amazon Prime on Friday.

Marya E. Gates

Marya E. Gates is a freelance film and culture writer based in Los Angeles and Chicago. She studied Comparative Literature at U.C. Berkeley, and also has an overpriced and underused MFA in Film Production. Other bylines include Moviefone, The Playlist, Crooked Marquee, Nerdist, and Vulture. 

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