Lady Gaga’s ‘Five Foot Two:’ Documentary Review
Few pop acts have managed to captivate the world in the way that Lady Gaga has since debuting in 2008. She paired electro-pop anthems with outrageous costumes and a larger-than-life message of self-acceptance, brashly defying industry expectations of how female pop stars are supposed to behave. Her brand was all about excess and self-indulgence, and it worked without fail until 2013’s ARTPOP.
Instead of picking up where she left off, the pop star returned from a lengthy break with the folk-Americana stylings on Joanne. Gone were the days of couture costumes and provocative performances as the hitmaker proclaimed that she was finally recording music for herself. That was at odds with her previous messages. If the Mother Monster demanding that you put your paws up while wearing meat dresses and bleeding onstage at the VMAs was a true portrayal back then, who was this dive bar diva?
The album and its accompanying era raised endless questions, and they are finally addressed in the forthcoming Netflix documentary, Five Foot Two. Out tomorrow (September 22), it offers unfettered access to the life of one of the world’s most renowned pop powerhouses. Comprised mostly of home footage, no stone is left unturned as she discusses heartache, loneliness, pain, and, most importantly, her love of family and art.
In the aftermath of news that she postponed the European leg of her Joanne World Tour due to a battle with fibromyalgia, her struggle with chronic pain becomes evident almost immediately in the project. It was teased in all of the previews, and she alludes to throbbing pain wracking her body between recording sessions and other meetings. But the severity of it all is not evident until Tony Bennett’s birthday party.
After a montage of footage promising her appearance at the event, the director pans over to the singer sprawled across her couch. Tears of agony and frustration are captured by the always-present camera before it cuts away. The moment is followed by a performance delivered in full makeup later that night, almost as a declaration that nothing will stop her. The second she steps in front of a camera, Gaga is in full superstar mode regardless of what happened moments before.
Countless doctor’s appointments follow. Even still, the show must go on. As Gaga processes the news from her doctor she worries that crying will make her face puffy for her next engagement. It is never easy to be a pop star, to be required to straddle the line between her life in the public and her private need, but the 31-year-old preservers like a professional.
This balance between mundane and celebrity pervades much of the documentary. Footage bounces between her home life and superstar appearances with little fanfare. A family Baptism is treated with equal importance as promotional tours. Gaga herself seems to recognize that tension in her life, but usually she embraces it. Even the “uniform” that defined the Joanne era — her crop tops and cutoff denim paired with that pink hat – was a massive orchestration that required a poolside meeting to decide upon. Unlike most meetings that take place in offices across the globe, the pop singer hosted this one topless.
Though she is adept at walking that tightrope, it is not without personal burden. “I just want to make music and make people happy and like go on tour and have a family. And I just can never get it all right,” she says of her failed engagement to actor Taylor Kinney. Later, things get even more raw as she speaks over a blacked out screen as though the moment was too private to share in person. “I’m alone,” she says, again fighting back tears. “And all these people will leave, right? They will leave. And then I’m alone, and I go from people touching me all day and talking at me to total silence.”
Loneliness is recurring problem throughout Five Foot Two. Even in the midst of the media furor, she is alone. A montage of paparazzi footage reveals just how manic things get as frenzied fans flock and photographers trail her every move. “I did it,” she says to her father as she retreats into relative peace after one outing. It is unclear if “it” was the video shoot that she’d just finished or braving walking through the sea of insanity gathered just outside.
Luckily, her family is there to provide support. “My family is the most important thing in my life,” she says with complete conviction. They also became a driving inspiration behind her last studio album, which was named after an aunt who passed away from lupus at 19. During a meeting with her grandma she introduces the emotional title track, sparking a moving conversation about the artist and her departed family member. “She had a lot of talent, but she did not have enough time,” Gaga’s grandma said of her daughter in a way that draws parallels between the two creative women.
The film culminates with Gaga’s much-hyped Super Bowl performance. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve been working my whole life for this moment,” she tells her dancers as she is strapped into the cables that will allow her to soar through the air moments later. As the credits roll, we get footage from after her set as she processes the moment and the aftershocks (“Million Reasons” topping the iTunes charts, for example). For fans, both hardcore and casual,Five Foot Two is well worth a watch.