A Netflix documentary on the life of Lady Gaga seems so right, don’t you think? Netflix has successfully branded their original projects with a no-holds-barred sort of flare, so the news Gaga: Five Foot Two would premiere September 22nd on the streaming service delighted fans. The documentary promised to show a side of the star we had never seen before. But I wondered, what is there left to see? Lady Gaga was, at one time, the biggest pop star in the world. Years beyond the bleeding on stage, the political statements, the meat dress, the dozens of magazine spreads and interviews showcasing “what Lady Gaga is REALLY like!”, what else can we learn about Gaga? What is the next story she has to tell?
The first half of the film feels like– and is, in some cases– an extended smoke break with Gaga. Directed by Chris Moukarbel, the beginning of the documentary resembles a dream-like time out. Lady Gaga’s career has been, in its entirety, a testament to her creative genius. Now that we, her audience, understand this, Gaga: Five Foot Two spends no time convincing us of her talent or capabilities. Instead, we are welcomed into Gaga’s California home, tucked away in the serenity of Malibu. We ride with her through Los Angeles and New York, shotgun in her gorgeous vintage convertible. We know Gaga the performer; Five Foot Two acquaints us with Gaga the woman.
The doc’s cinéma vérité style walks us through the wheelhouse of Gaga’s team and the structure of her latest project. The tone of the film is initially breezy, introducing us to Gaga cooking a meal or enjoying a joint outside of her home. These candid moments are, of course, sprinkled with Gaga’s intellect and eccentricity. She opens up about her supposed feud with Madonna stoned in a parking garage. In the middle of a poolside professional conversation, Gaga nonchalantly removes her bikini top and continues to talk about new music. Gaga’s raw energy is almost tangible throughout; the way she commands attention in the recording studio, on set of American Horror Story and during her performance rehearsals. Gaga the artist, the feminist, the perfectionist, the business woman– her voice leads the way for Five Foot Two.
The film follows the development and release of Lady Gaga’s fifth studio album, Joanne. In this regard, Gaga: Five Foot Two borrows themes of growth, loss and isolation heard on the new record. In the film, Gaga explains that 2013 and beyond were taxing years on her mental and physical state. She describes recent years as a whirlwind of heartbreak, maturation, alcoholism, depression and body pain. Gaga’s struggle with chronic pain has been one of privacy and mystery; up until this documentary, her physical condition had only been brushed over by the media.
Described as the onset of fibromyalgia, Five Foot Two sees the common and excruciating illness in action on the star. One morning, a tearful Gaga awakes with searing spasms in her muscles. Moments later, she is captured in hair and makeup, on her way to perform. The documentary successfully represents Gaga’s illness as an integral part of her life. In between her interviews and meetings, she is captured receiving medical injections in corner rooms. After her electric performances on stage, we are met with the stark contrast of her pain-staking hospital visits. The dark reality of her wellness is shocking– but it is also important in the context of the film’s release.
Media almost exclusively celebrates those of able body. Disability and illness are, whether we admit it or not, internalized as signs of weakness. Five Foot Two follows Lady Gaga– a cultural figurehead for strength personified. She talks personal and artistic growth in the film, and briefly discusses the comfortability in her sexuality as a 30-year-old woman. For once in media, disability does not define Gaga’s personal successes. Gaga continues to be a creator, a boss, a sexual being, a performer. Rather than crumble under the pain of her illness, she carries it with her and churns it into her strength as a human being.
A success of Gaga: Five Foot Two is its breadth of subject matter. The film captures months of Gaga’s demanding work schedule, where major career events lend themselves to personal discussion by the star herself. It lacks, respectively, depth of any one issue she discusses. We meet Gaga’s grandmother, who lost her daughter Joanne to Lupus before Gaga was born. We are steered through Gaga’s emotional family dynamic with the missing family member who inspired the record Joanne. Though the family narrative hits hard in her Grandmother’s quiet living room, or when we see Gaga alone at a family christening, it loses its punch amidst the many other aspects captured in the film. Her very recent failed engagement is only touched on a handful of times in the wake of her Super Bowl performance.
The halftime show is set up as the conclusion of the film; what all the struggle of the first 90 minutes leads up to. Because I felt this film grappled to plant its feet, Five Foot Two could have surpassed the Super Bowl and continued into more events of her daily life, perhaps opening up more about her illness or future artistic plans. It could have very well been that the filmmakers had to simply choose a stopping point– because I’m certain following Lady Gaga with a camera creates a myriad of pop culture anthologies. In all, the observational style of the doc leaves us with at least a breath of what the artful, wise and impassioned life of Lady Gaga might be like.
Lady Gaga was the first ever pop singer that gave me insight into stardom. Her story was one of perseverance, grit and creative genius. She opened my eyes to the working life of musicians; proving that being a pop star is as much an occupation as it is a labor of love. Like most fans, I found that Joanne was a confusing departure from Gaga’s sequined, balls-to-the-wall pop style. It made me question if she still possessed the same passion that inspired me so long ago. But this documentary tied together the change in Gaga’s artistry and her personal experiences, proving a pop star is only as creative as she grows to be. Five Foot Two paints a striking portrait of the beloved singer we were introduced to in 2008– a portrait that upholds her legacy with an unpolished human perspective.