“Gaga: Five Foot Two” (2017) debuted for streaming on Netflix on Sept. 22 as the latest addition to the company’s roster of original documentaries, movies and series. The biopic, referencing the singer’s height, follows the mega pop star Lady Gaga over the course of several months of 2016 and 2017, from the release of her latest album “Joanne” (2016) to her performance at the 2017 Super Bowl halftime show in Houston. The documentary chronicles Gaga’s struggle with chronic pain and offers a close-up, quotidian and almost mundane look at the star who built a global reputation and massive fanbase around her outlandish public persona and willingness to shock and awe mainstream audiences.
“Gaga: Five Foot Two” succeeds in bringing Gaga down to earth. The opening scene shows the star cooking in the kitchen and wearing sweatpants, and she talks candidly about her struggling relationship with her now ex-fiancé, actor Taylor Kinney.
It’s a stark contrast to how the general public is used to seeing her. Whether it’s arriving at the 2011 Grammys in an intergalactic egg or winning eight VMAs while wearing a dress made of raw meat in 2010, Lady Gaga spent years cultivating a reputation as one of the most bizarre pop stars in the 2000s and 2010s. In “Gaga: Five Foot Two,” she talks about how, to some extent, her desire to shock came from a sense of vulnerability as a woman in the music industry. Gaga used fashion and performance to push back against a male-dominated industry that tends to value women for their bodies and sexuality.
“When they wanted me to be sexy or they wanted me to be pop I always put some f—— absurd spin on it that made me feel like I was still in control,” she says. “If I’m gonna be sexy on the VMAs and sing about the paparazzi, I’m gonna do it while bleeding to death and reminding you what fame did to Marilyn Monroe.”
The documentary is interspersed with distressing moments of Gaga suffering from fibromyalgia, which causes widespread chronic pain throughout the body, and recurring pain from a hip injury.
“I just think about other people that have something [like fibromyalgia] that are struggling to figure out what it is,” she says, lying on a couch in tears while a massage therapist works on her forehead. “They don’t have the quick money to have someone help them … What the hell would I do?”
“Gaga: Five Foot Two” traces Gaga’s career from the release of the first single from “Joanne,” “Perfect Illusion” (2016), to the album’s release. Between clips of Gaga in the studio with producer Mark Ronson and recording “Hey Girl” with Florence Welch, Gaga explains her musical and artistic evolution since the release of her debut album “The Fame” in 2008.
“I want everything to come out of that studio and that girl,” Gaga says sitting by the pool, referring to the stripped down version of herself in a simple outfit of black jeans, a t-shirt and boots that defines the visual and musical aesthetic of “Joanne.”
Gaga’s transition to a toned-down, monochrome uniform is a reflection of her newest album, which trades the maximalist synthpop of “Born This Way” (2011) and “ARTPOP” (2013) for a more acoustic, almost country sound. In response to many fans, including this writer, who latched onto the Gaga in the late 2000s for her wacky sense of style and her infectious pop anthems like “Just Dance” (2008), “Poker Face” (2008) and “Bad Romance” (2009), Gaga offers a defense of “Joanne.”
“We’ve seen me f—— glamorous for almost 10 years, it’s boring,” she says.
The film’s second half follows Gaga’s preparation for her Super Bowl halftime show performance, where again she swaps some of her famously eccentric performance for a more down-to-earth routine.
“I want to do the opposite of what everyone thinks I’m going to do,” she says. “Everybody thinks I’m going to go out there on a f—— throne, in a meat dress, with 90 shirtless men and unicorns … but it’s not even in the neighborhood of what we’re going to do.”
“Gaga: Five Foot Two” ends where it started, with Gaga slowly ascending to the ceiling of Houston’s NRG Stadium in a bedazzled Versace bodysuit and matching boots right before her now famous dive onto centerstage. It’s a powerful moment after watching Gaga struggle with chronic pain, heartbreak and the pressure of stardom. “Gaga: Five Foot Two” breaks through the glitter and synthesizers that defined Gaga for almost a decade and delivers an intimate and emotional glimpse of a woman famous for being out of this world.