The new Netflix documentary shows a side to Lady Gaga that’s always been right in front of us.
Beyond all of the performance art and outrageous fashion, Five Foot Two is a raw representation of the iconic Lady Gaga as she is, introducing the world to a Gaga we always sensed was there. For fans this documentary will serve as confirmation to how genuine Lady Gaga is as a musician and as a person, and for those who are not necessarily Little Monsters, this will provide a side to Gaga that is not often highlighted in the entertainment media landscape. Even if Gaga’s music, in particular, is not your favorite, after watching this documentary, it’s hard to deny the generational talent that she is and the heart that she brings on stage and off.
The film takes us through Gaga’s journey in creating her most recent album Joanne, which we learn was named after her father’s sister who died at 19. A young artist with potential, Joanne Germanotta had an incurable hand disease which led to doctors recommending her hands be amputated. Rather than have her artist daughter deal with the loss of something so valuable to her entire being, Gaga’s grandmother chose not to watch her suffer through amputation. In perhaps one of the most touching moments of the entire documentary, Gaga visits her grandmother to present her with her song “Joanne.” After she plays the song, her grandmother’s reaction brings Gaga to tears and she tells her grandmother that she wrote it for her and her dad.
Something the documentary consistently reinforces is the humanity behind the superstar, and in this moment, we see it. At the end of the day, the larger than life musician writes music for her family, looking to share a cathartic experience with her grandmother, which emphasizes the human part of the superhuman she is. Her grandmother calling her Stefani is also a nice reminder that there is indeed a woman behind the icon.
Something that assists the documentary in its goal to portray the regular person that Gaga is, is through showing us her natural reactions to situations. At the beginning of the film, Gaga responds to criticism from Madonna, an artist she has revered practically her entire life. In responding to this criticism, she says that because she is an Italian from New York, she will always tell it like it is, to someone’s face, if she has a problem with them. And when she says this, it’s completely believable. From then on, as the documentary shines this light of sincerity and authenticity on Gaga, we buy it. A young fan of her cries to the camera, saying she loves Lady Gaga because she actually cares about her fans. And we as viewers don’t just take the fan’s word for it, but rather, we know it to be true because of all the documentary has shown leading up to that point. Part of her uniqueness is proven by her true devotion to her fans. We get the sense Gaga wants to make music to share a story with others and create a group experience. She performs for a crowd and the crowd performs for her.
The film does an excellent job at juxtaposing Gaga’s life of fame and glam with the loneliness she feels when she goes home at night. “You hear that?” she says, “Silence.” After walking through a crowd of fans, the silence of the car ride just can’t compare to the crowds. And as peaceful as it may be, the adjustment period of feeling totally lifted to being alone is something we often forget celebrities have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It’s something that seems like it’s worth it, but as Gaga reiterates in the film, she doesn’t actually know if it’s worth it. Because of fame, she’s lost friends and she’s constantly becoming more disconnected from the life she used to know and therefore weighs the benefits of being a hit musician to losing valuable parts of herself. By the end of the film, she doesn’t have an answer to this, but it opens up a dialogue about how we view celebrities and the nuance of their complicated lives.
Ultimately, this documentary is about Gaga finally setting aside the Lady Gaga alter ego that she established at the beginning of her career. She’s still the musician who wants to shock people and wants to surprise her fans while keeping her haters on their toes, but it’s clear from the film that she has reached a new phase in her life where she is ready to completely bare herself to the world. Past the days of “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance,” Gaga is becoming more in touch with Stefani and experimenting with different musical genres that come from deep within her. During one point in her story, the film cross-cuts between Gaga showing up in her unique fashion from a few years ago to her today, going out in public in her normal attire, signaling to the world that she is finally ready to be herself and that she has come to terms with who she is as a person.
“I want to become an old rock star lady,” Gaga says in the film, almost fearing she will be forgotten by the world, as we all do. Far from being lost in the dust, however, Five Foot Two shows us that she still has much more history to make.