Netflix’s new original documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, provides a humanizing, behind-the-scenes look at the real Lady Gaga (Stefani Germanotta), including her personal struggles and her unfiltered commentary on her past.
“I just want Madonna to fuckin’ push me up against the wall and kiss me and tell me I’m a piece of shit”
Directed by Chris Moukarbel, the plot follows Gaga as she creates her fifth studio album, Joanne, and prepares to perform at the Super Bowl LI halftime show, but it’s not really Lady Gaga, it’s a new, black t-shirt, black jean-wearing incarnation of Lady Gaga. With this ‘new Gaga’ we get to the more interesting underlying themes like her struggles with physical pain, self-doubt and asserting herself as a woman.
The documentary does a good job mixing in clips and performances by the old Lady Gaga to show the contrast between old and new. With one particularly good scene coming as the new, dressed-down Gaga greets her fans and signs autographs as Stefani, spliced with clips of the old Gaga dressed up, parading through paparazzi.
Her daily struggles with a nagging hip injury and fibromyalgia leave the pop icon with chronic pain and constant discomfort. Fibromyalgia’s debilitating symptoms are clearly on display as Gaga receives routine massages, ice, and other treatments just to be able to function.
Perhaps the most surprising revelations are Gaga’s professed difficulties with self-confidence and maturing into a woman. She claims she often chose to wear eccentric outfits to assert the only control she felt she had at the time. These outfits acted as masks to give Gaga confidence, while making the social statement her songs may not otherwise have properly conveyed.
At one point she comments that she feels like she was still a kid when she made ARTPOP, and that she’s matured considerably since then – again alluding to her fear of her own arrested development. Based on what she decided to include in the documentary, Gaga is definitely more comfortable with who she is, how she looks, and how she sounds, and she wants everyone to know it.
“I’m excited. I want to become an old rockstar lady.”
Why It Doesn’t Suck
The behind-the-scenes look at Gaga’s highs and lows gives viewers a far more vulnerable version of the normally dolled-up celebrity. It’s refreshing to see the woman behind the meat dress, and the real Gaga is far more humble and chill than I ever expected. While she may draw criticism for co-producing her own documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two still feels like an honest, although calculated, portrayal of the new Lady Gaga.
The best moments come when Gaga is decompressing with Mark Ronson after recording and she’s smoking. Listening to her vent about Madonna, male producers and the downsides of fame provide some of the best quotes in the documentary, despite the inauspicious setting.
For casual listeners of her music like myself, the documentary provides a lot of new reasons to like Stefani Germanotta the person. Even if you don’t enjoy her music, the documentary is, at the very least, an interesting look at the process of a creative genius.
Room for Improvement
After a while, it starts to feel a bit like Gaga is both seeking our approval for her new aesthetic, and pity for her constant struggles. The documentary is clearly meant to accompany Gaga’s new image: a more sophisticated, grown-up version of the pop icon. From that perspective, it’s hardly an objective look at Lady Gaga and it becomes apparent that the film is promoting Lady Gaga while providing a sympathetic narrative.
I found it slightly difficult to empathize with a person who can afford to pay two people to glitter her ass, but maybe that’s just the downside to being part of the Haus of Gaga. It’s hard to feel too much pity while a team of handlers, masseuses, and consultants constantly cater to her.
It’s also kind of ironic to create a documentary about yourself and then complain about the detrimental effects of fame for a large part of it. EW reviewer, Darren Franich, summed it up best when he said:
It’s part of that odd and trendy new documentary genre: The Celebrity Trauma Hagiography, a sponsored celebration of a star’s splendid sadness. This isn’t a portrait of a famous person suffering trauma, mind you; the goal of a film like this is to portray the trauma of fame, forever up in the air, surrounded and alone.
I found Gaga: Five Foot Two to be fairly enjoyable, despite my initial suspicion about it being a self-produced documentary. It does a decent job humanizing a formerly inaccessible celebrity and showing who she really is (or wants us to believe she is). None of the scenes are particularly groundbreaking, but the entire composition manages to tell a compelling story.