When you hear the name Jennifer Lopez, what comes to your mind first — the singer or the actress? If you have been introduced to American pop culture somewhere close to the turn of the century, then it is highly likely that Jennifer Lopez comes across as a pop singing sensation first, who has had her fair share of movie appearances. With the kind of success that her first music album On The 6 received on its release in 1999, thanks to songs such as If You Had My Love and Waiting for Tonight which were played regularly in pubs and discos, Jennifer Lopez undoubtedly began her musical career in some style. But not many may be aware that she had already well begun her acting career by then. In fact, it began as early as in 1986, when Lopez was only 16 with a brief role in the rather unknown film My Little Girl, though this movie did star James Earl Jones and Oscar winner Geraldine Page. By 1995, she was already in a big studio production Money Train along side Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, though the movie bombed.
Jennifer Lopez found some noteworthy roles early in her career, maybe because she did have a good screen presence, was easy on the eyes, and having a Hispanic background which was not that common in Hollywood, she could widen the audience base for the movie studios. She was part of the Robin Williams starrer Jack and then the Jack Nicholson starrer Blood and Wine, both of which failed at the box-office, with the latter especially doing quite terribly. Despite that, Warner Bros. still deemed Lopez as best suited for the lead role in the biopic Selena based on the American singer with Latin roots, Selena. This movie turned out to be the breakthrough role for Lopez, doing well commercially and critically, even earning her a Golden Globe nomination.
Jennifer Lopez caught more eyeballs with her role in Anaconda that released in 1997, same year as Selena. The movie was a surprise hit and though the visual effects and the rather huge snake were the main attractions, Jennifer Lopez as an actress was gaining prominence. By the turn of the century, the actress had already established herself as a pop diva, and so when she starred in romantic flicks as The Wedding Planner opposite Matthew McConaughey and Maid in Manhattan opposite Ralph Fiennes, the audience seemed to relish the chance of seeing her in such romantic light-hearted films, each one being a financial success. But while Lopez has reached newer heights in her singing career, has she really shone as an actress since then?
Hit films have continued to remain a part of Jennifer Lopez’s filmography. Shall We Dance? of 2004 along with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon did very well at the box-office, and so did Monster-in-Law of 2005 which was another romantic comedy starring Jane Fonda. But in the same theme, Gigli with her then boyfriend Ben Affleck was a disaster, The Back-Up Plan of 2010 did so-so, while the drama flick An Unfinished Plan was another failure. If you look back, while Lopez started out with roles in thrillers and dramas, she’s stuck largely to romantic comedies over the past decade and a half. While she has found some success there, she hasn’t really evolved as an actress. The roles have seemed cliched, the acting quite pedestrian. Recently she did star in the action thriller Parker with Jason Statham, but there wasn’t much new in her role here too (there wasn’t much new delivered by Statham either).
It is difficult to really figure out how talented Jennifer Lopez is as an actress, for she hasn’t explored many genres. She does have a great screen presence, but again, it is difficult to see her independent of the persona of JLo, the popular singer. Maybe that will be the real test of her acting prowess. When we can watch a Jennifer Lopez film and not be reminded that this actress is also a world-famous music personality. Lopez seems to be working on widening the choices of her movies. She will be seen next in 2015 in The Boy Next Door which is a thriller, and Lila & Eve which is a drama film also starring Viola Davis. These are nowhere close to the Maid in Manhattan style of movies, and if you have any doubt whether she can work in such movies, then I suggest you look up 2000’s The Cell, a science-fiction psychological thriller film which till date I find as her best work. But that was a long time back, and Lopez has to now rediscover herself as an actress. Maybe there are better things to come…