It’s pretty common for me to watch a film and get frustrated by the squandering of its female talent.
Movies have historically told (white) men’s stories, and while it’s getting better, there’s still a long way to go.
She plays opposite two formidable talents: Gael García Bernal and Joseph Fiennes, both of whom have careers as long and (almost as) storied as hers.
Since at least the 2001’s Y Tú Mamá También, Bernal has been a mainstream and indie darling, a celebrity crush for Latinos of ALL gender identities looking for a man who rejects machismo and represents an alternate and desirable form of masculinity.
Meanwhile, Fiennes broke through in the late ’90s as the titular Shakespeare in Love, opposite Gwyneth Paltrow, and has been acting regularly since in Elizabethian and modern-day tales since. Oh, and he’s brother to Ralph Fiennes, who played Lopez’s love interest in Maid in Manhattan. In that 2002 film, the two leads got relatively equal screen time.
Not so in The Mother, which is all Jennifer Lopez. Despite Bernal and Fiennes’ considerable talents, they don’t get much to do—other than be defined by their relationship to Lopez. In fact, their very appearance changes, with both men getting considerable glow-downs over the course of the film.
The Mother mostly takes place 12+ years after Lopez, Bernal, and Fiennes’ characters were in a love triangle—obviously with Lopez as the apex. In the earlier timeframe, everyone is beautiful, oozing their Hollywood charm and good looks. In the present, though, only Lopez is as attractive as ever.
Half of Fiennes’ face is disfigured with burn scars, and Bernal has grown out greasy hair and become pallid, ostensibly from light alcohol poisoning. Whatever magic keeps her from aging works in reverse on her film exes, taking them from viable love interests to ugly villains in just a few frames.
The message here is clear: Don’t mess with J.Lo.
But Lopez is willing to be vulnerable in other ways. In The Mother, her character grapples with a life defined by early bad choices. She’s emotionally unavailable in ways typically ascribed to stoic men—her character could easily fall in Pedro Pascal’s recent one-two lineup of untraditional parent figures if the gender was reversed.
Yet The Mother is a decidedly feminine take on the action-hero-avenging-parent genre. The title, the Mother’s Day release date, and the film poster of Lopez staring directly at the camera all lets us know that this is Jennifer Lopez’s movie, made for and by her.
Lopez has more than earned the right to be the star, to put great men in supporting roles, and tell a story that unapologetically centers her. It’s a rare feat for a Latina, but hopefully one that becomes less so as J.Lo continues paving the way.
The Mother is available to stream now on Netflix.
Cristina Escobar is the entertainment reporter for Latino Rebels. She is also the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade