It’s been a mere nine years since Lady Gaga burst onto the scene with the release of Just Dance and her first album, The Fame. Since then, she has catapulted to iconic status. She has sold over 27 million albums and 146 million singles, won six Grammy Awards, and was nominated for an Oscar alongside Diane Warren for the song Til It Happens To You. As the only performer ever to have two separate singles surpass 7 million downloads, she has become an irrepressible artistic force in the industry, setting records by every metric.
In Gaga: Five Foot Two, documentary filmmaker Chris Moukarbel strips back the layers with a raw and intimate look at the private the world of Stefani Germanotta, or Lady Gaga as she is better known to the universe.
We are invited into Gaga’s home, accompany her on personal health exams, join her at family christenings, and visits to grandma’s house. At the same time, we watch her prepare for one of her all-time career highlights, performing at the 2017 Super Bowl Halftime show, and recording songs for her latest album, Joanne.
When you’re an icon of this stature, the voyeur in almost all of us wants to get to know the person behind all this glamorous machinery, and Mourkarbel delivers that glimpse Gaga in spades.
The documentary opens with the same shot as it ends, Lady Gaga suspended from the ceiling of the NRG Stadium, site of the Super Bowl, preparing to dive into the stadium for one of the biggest and splashiest entrances of her career.
Mourkarbel gives us snippets of music and performances, but those clips are kept to a minimum. What we get more of is the Lady Gaga we rarely see — lounging in t-shirts, hair pulled up, her face devoid of makeup, talking frankly about everything from being a woman in the industry to being lonely, and more importantly, for the first time, we learn about the chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia that has crippled her.
At her Malibu home, Gaga has just turned thirty, she’s in the kitchen cooking and declares, “I feel better than ever. All my insecurities are gone.I don’t feel insecure about who I am as a woman. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of what I have.” She’s in sweats, hair up, no makeup and in her home, but she is confident of this new time in her life.
There are also tears from the woman who has given us the Meat Dress, arriving at the Grammy’s in an egg, the alter ego Jo Calerdone, and arriving to the VMA’s on a horse.
She sobs as her pain is treated with ice and massages, as well as visits to the hospital as daggers of agony shoot through her body. Gaga has always talked about the pain she has suffered since her hip injury a few years ago, but we see how she endures numerous pain management treatments so she can perform.
There are more tears as she makes an emotional visit to see her grandmother, and plays her the song “Joanne.” Joanne was an aunt she never met, but has nevertheless inspired her throughout her career and remains a constant comforting presence. She wipes away tears as grandma approves of the haunting and personal track, but also advises her, “Don’t get maudlin over all this.”
There is pervasive loneliness that quietly resonates throughout Gaga: Five Foot Two as we see the unmasked Gaga, and it comes to light late in the documentary as she acknowledges the toll fame has taken on her personal life. Mourkarbel shoots her submerged at night in a pool as she recites the litany of highlights and milestones in her career that have cost her relationships. Fame is lonely, the fans are gone, the entourage is gone, the adulation has temporarily evaporated into the night. The next day, the sun comes up, an appearance is made, the fans are back, the paparazzi are there, night returns, and the circle continues.
The woman who created the Born This Way Foundation to help enable youth empowerment also discusses sexism and her struggles of being a woman in the industry. She chats about the pressures of being told to be “more sexier” by music producers.
“I’m not going to be a receptacle for your pain,” she says, so consequently she chose to put her “absurd spin” on sexy as she calls it, and there we have it, an insight and explanation into her creative mind that has brought us all these iconic and memorable moments we have come to associate with her career.
Similarly on the set of American Horror Story: Roanoke which saw her play a 15th-century witch who was sentenced to be burnt at the stake for bearing such a powerful presence. She believes it may be part of a curse that she feels women are still persecuted for today. If a woman tries to obtain any sort of power in the world, there will always be unreasonable opposition that they must face.
Gaga: Five Foot Two is seamlessly edited by Greg Arata as he weaves the various threads of her private life together. Mourkarbel shows us moments of laughter too. Make no mistake about it, this woman is a workaholic and we see the proof as the Lady Gaga machine never ceases churning through all the pain, the laughs, and the intimate family moments that serve as a reminder that she is just as human as the next person.
Gaga: Five Foot Two will fascinate fans and non-fans alike as they get a look inside her world and a newfound respect is born. It is a captivating and terrific documentary that delivers a treasure trove of new and refreshing insight.
Cut to the full transformation as she gets into the Donatella Versace diamond encrusted outfit that she will wear for her Super Bowl performance, learning her latest album has just become number one around the world, and being hooked onto wires that will lift aloft the icon we know as Lady Gaga.
As she prepares to take flight she reminds us that there’s nothing fleeing about her fame. She lets us in on a secret that comes as no surprise, saying “this old rock-star lady” plans on sticking around for a long long time.
Gaga: Five Foot Two streams on Netflix from September 22.