By Camille Liptak
Netflix Original, Five Foot Two, Directed by Chris Moukarbel, is a biographical documentary inviting the audience into the previously private life of Lady GaGa to show them a different side of the music maven.
The day of the 2017 Super Bowl, Lady GaGa talks about her upcoming half time show performance, “People will read into it the way they want to read it into. That’s how this goes.” Viewers of Five Foot Two will do similarly. GaGa devotees will praise her for sharing her pain and pitfalls; whereas GaGa agnostics will likely watch with apathy, or ignore the film altogether.
It is obvious that GaGa is trying to expose her humanness through this documentary. However, the way in which this goal is approached is unconvincing. The tried-and-true documentary scenes are present: the pressures of performing, family cameos, and heartbreak, but the focus of Five Foot Two is distorted.
Is it about GaGa writing, recording, and promoting her album? Is it about her family? Is it about the Super Bowl half time show? Is it about her struggle with chronic pain? The film tried to unsuccessfully revolve around all of those things, showing too much and explaining too little.
Fans of the star might feel left out of the loop, as Five Foot Two delivers very little of what one would expect of a Lady GaGa documentary. The film was promoted as being as a sort of GaGa Unplugged, showing a vulnerable, soulful side of the singer. However, it is an hour and 40 minutes of controlled snippets that leave the viewer wondering why any of the material shown should matter.
Five Foot Two might be an attempt to reimagine GaGa, real name Stefani Germanotta, as the struggling, sequestered pop star dealing with the physical and emotional demands of stardom. What she has previously proposed as surreal reality –the costumes and theatrics– is now being replaced by a human reality, wrought with physical and emotional distress. Though none of it appears to be rehearsed, very few moments in the film show GaGa as being entirely unguarded.
It is only when she is in the process of writing music or minutes away from performing that she seems her most authentic. Art she can control, but, her personal pain seems to be a subject she hoped she could conquer through this film.
The electro-pop provocateur seemed to lack her characteristic eccentricity and verve. Absent as well is the glitter and glam. Reasons for these changes were barely explained; but it is safe to assume that GaGa has toned down her style to better suit her reality as a maturing artist dealing with chronic pain. Minimalism –in art, fashion, and life–might be the new wave trend GaGa is trying to set.
She is proliferating the preexisting GaGa enigma by feeding viewers superficial intimacy. The viewer gets the impression that she is not at ease being in front of the camera discussing her physical weaknesses sans glitzy greasepaint and garb. Lady GaGa is a performer, and when stripped of a stage, camera, or piano, she seems a little lost.
She talks about songwriting as being “invasive”, because she is opening up her heart for everyone to hear and judge. Five Foot Two is not invasive. What is shown in the film is an intelligent and polite pop icon isolated from a fame machine she previously esteemed and influenced.
The entire film felt like a trailer for a more robust project with GaGa as headliner, shot like a tabloid-come-to-life, without the histrionics.
In 2011, GaGa collaborated with photographer Terry Richardson on a photobook chronicling the singer’s Monster Ball tour. That still-life picture book had more edge and life than Five Foot Two.
The apex of the documentary shows GaGa prepping for the 2017 Super Bowl half time show. Instead of focusing on the significance of this event, and what it means for the superstar’s career, the film ends right where it started, with GaGa suspended in air. Perhaps this image was symbolic of the idol’s approach towards her future, or maybe it was Moukarbel’s way of wrapping up the 100 minutes of mildness.
Five Foot Two plays like a rough cut of what could have –and should have–been a monumental peek into the superstar’s personal life. Elements of the film are cinematic, and the singer’s music plays a major role, but it would have fared better with less editing, and more scenes of GaGa’s artistic process and pursuits.