Jennifer Lopez excels as Selena, the Tejano singing sensation from south Texas who was shot and killed in 1995 at age 23 by Yolanda Saldivar, the president of her fan club. Director Gregory Nava, justly acclaimed for El Norte, had worked with Lopez in My Family/Mi Familia. He knew that this dancer (TV’s In Living Color) and actress (Blood and Wine) had the talent and commitment to give Selena her due. What a shame, then, that Nava’s script strands her in such dramatically shallow waters.
Lopez struts onstage in Selena’s famous bustiers and boots, lip-syncs to the Tejano songs (a mix of polka, rock, pop, R & B and Latin) that made Selena a Hispanic idol and hits the career high points that led to a Grammy Award in life and international stardom in death.
The private Selena is absent. Not so mysteriously, since Nava, working in tandem with Selena’s father — executive producer Abraham Quintanilla Jr. — wants a hagiography, not a biography. After Selena defies Abraham (a stolid Edward James Olmos) by marrying guitarist Chris Perez (Jon Seda), her life is conflict-free until Yolanda, fired after accusations of embezzling, shoots Selena in the back at a Texas motel.
Nava doesn’t show the murder or much of Yolanda (“She doesn’t deserve it,” he has stated). Selena’s Secret, a new book by TV journalist Maria Celeste ArrarÃƒ?Ã…Â¸s, suggests that Selena’s marriage was floundering. There’s none of that, either, nor should there be. Scandal isn’t what this movie needs.
Missing is a sense of the interior life behind the smiling face that Selena showed the world. What of the drive that led her to music? What comfort did she find in it? What pain? In one scene at a concert in Mexico, the crowd nearly crushes the stage on which Selena and her band are playing. Lopez is allowed to show a flash of fear, a recognizable human emotion. Nava has said that Selena is meant to be “life affirming.” How can it be when life — the vital mess of it — is what this misguided elegy leaves out?