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'Five Foot Two': A limited look at the life of Lady Gaga

by Sarah James Lady Gaga’s most recent project Gaga: Five Foot Two has just released on Netflix. The documentary, which was produced by Gaga, follows the pop superstar during the creation of her most recent album, Joanne, and her preparation for performing the halftime show at Super Bowl LI. Throughout the documentary, viewers are shown a side of Lady Gaga that they may have never guessed existed. She’s dealing with extreme pain in her hip for several years, trying very hard to combat her mental illness, and wanting more than anything to be seen a strong woman in the music industry. Why, then, would she produce a documentary that showcases her weaknesses and struggles?

Image from The Guardian
This documentary does an excellent job of humanizing Lady Gaga. You see moments of frustration when her album gets leaked, pain when when she goes to the hospital for her hip, strength when she pushes through a Super Bowl rehearsal, and love when she visits her grandmother. The documentary strips her down to her basic human components, takes away the name and wild "Lady Gaga" persona and replaces her with Stefani Germanotta, a woman trying to show herself and her family through her music. Yet, as humanizing as this documentary is, it is a very limited look at Gaga's life. The documentary crew filmed over the course of several months, grabbing footage of her recording process, life at home, music video shoots, interviews, rehearsals, and much more. But in the end, months are condensed into a film that lasts less than two hours and provides the audience with a mere glimpse at Lady Gaga’s experience. And that’s the challenge in tackling a documentary of this size. Each shot is specifically composed and chosen in order to tell the story that Lady Gaga wants to tell. This isn’t to say that it is less humanizing or that she wasn’t being her real self in front of the camera. It is worth keeping in mind, however that there was a story to be told in this documentary. But what exactly was that story? At first, the narrative may seem like one of redemption - that by the end of the documentary our heroine will overcome her obstacles to release an album and maybe see her pain diminish. The documentary starts with a distinct focus on Joanne, showcasing studio sessions and background on the family member after whom Gaga named her album. In the midst of the stress to create this album that was not only new, but a moment for Gaga to redefine who she is as an artist, the audience is introduced to the extreme ongoing pain that she experiences. At first, this works in the narrative; it adds another obstacle for the protagonist to overcome and peels back another layer from Lady Gaga’s persona. But as the documentary progresses, there are almost too many things to worry about as the narrative jumping from hospital visits to studio sessions to family gatherings and more.
Image from Rolling Stone
Then, about half an hour into the story, the Super Bowl is introduced. The Super Bowl is relevant for about five minutes and is then promptly forgotten until the end of the documentary. Sure, this is how time progressed as the crew filmed, but there was already a surplus of conflict; adding the Super Bowl seemed superfluous. This documentary could have been compelling as either a journey to the Super Bowl, with extensive rehearsal footage and the process in putting on such a demanding show, or the making of Joanne, with an in-depth look at the inspirations and creations behind the album. Having both elements crammed into an hour and forty minutes is a little overwhelming, and ultimately, seems unfocused. With these abundant conflicts, the end of the documentary doesn’t really feel like a satisfying resolution. That said, there are a lot of really awesome moments in the documentary. We get a chance to see Gaga interact with her grandmother and show her the song inspired by her daughter, Joanne. We see a look at Gaga’s creative process and hear her voice, raw and unfiltered, as she records her music. We see her perform, record a music video, and go to a Walmart to buy her own album. We see a side of Gaga that was previously hidden: a woman who has had her heart broken more than once and who is going through pain she does not understand, all while trying to make her fans happy and proud. Sure, it’s easy to write off the life of a celebrity as one of absolute luxury and claim that their complaints can be seen as invalid because of their fame, but Five Foot Two shows us that celebrities have real struggles - that they are placed under an insane amount of stress and are expected to be their best at all times. Overall, Gaga: Five Foot Two is an excellent look at the life of Lady Gaga. It humanizes one of the biggest pop stars of the past decade and turns her from an outrageous celebrity into a real, hard-working woman in the music industry. Featured image from Toronto International Film Festival