The first shot of Gaga: Five Foot Two is worrying: It’s the heels of Lady Gaga’s rhinestone boots, ascending to the sky with the Bulgarian folk song “Kaval Sviri” playing in the background as if she’s become the shining Mother Monster goddess that her fans praise her to be. That’s when you start to worry that this “intimate documentary” is just another long-winded ego project for one Stefani Germanotta. You think, “Oh God, I get it. Lady Gaga’s amazing, I’m not, and I should bow in her presence,” which makes this movie nothing more than a Gaga propaganda piece. Of all the things that the world doesn’t need, it’s the 100 minute film equivalent of someone going “YAAS GAGA!”
Fortunately, Chris Moukarbel (Banksy Does New York) is more interested in Gaga in the next scene: no makeup with barely any clothes on early in the morning, feeding her dogs chicken and making some salad with her friends. Gaga: Five Foot Two follows the international pop star during the making of her fifth album, Joanne, and the lead-up to her performance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show this past year. It captures Gaga in the midst of her style dressdown, going from her exotic meat dresses and footlong heels to denim shorts, t-shirts, and a cowboy hat. She’s dealing with going against the pop norm with the country-tinged sound of Joanne, which also has some of the most personal lyrics of her career after ending her engagement to actor Taylor Kinney.
While those details were practically packaged with the press rollout for Joanne, the movie captures Gaga dealing with little pet peeves of the average pop superstar. She seen talking about the anxiety she feels when the album leaks online early and spoiling the reveal for the fans, how she’s still bothered that Madonna threw her shade in the press and not to her face, and the annoyance of juggling a new album and shooting American Horror Story. These might seem like diva moments, but Gaga’s personality on display is refreshing to see removed from her own gargantuan mythos. She’s still a proud New York Italian, rough around the edges and always has a grip on what’s around her. Even when she accidentally rear-ends Mark Ronson’s car before recording the Joanne cut “Hey Girl,” her bravado and shining smile is too adorable to pass off as fake.
When Moukarbel zooms in on the real emotion of Gaga is when the documentary becomes valid. Gaga had to reschedule tour dates recently due to harrowing chronic pain, and Gaga references a broken hip she sustained on tour in 2013 as the main cause. Seeing her writhing in pain before going to a dinner honoring Tony Bennett is shocking, laying on a couch unsure of why she’s suffering asking “Do I look pathetic?” without asking to stop the rolling of the camera. The doc’s most pivotal moment is Gaga confronting her unfortunate relationship between her success and her love life. She sells millions of records on a new album almost the exact same time a relationship has crumbled. She goes out in the public and is screamed at by fans, touched, hugged, and even kissed by her little monsters, but she comes home to silence and sleeps alone. Then a black screen is present and all that’s heard is Gaga sobbing. The next morning, she’s wide awake and off for rehearsals for the Super Bowl.
While it’s merely a peek behind her rhinestone curtain, Gaga: Five Foot Two is still an interesting one. There are no interview cut aways and no unnecessary history lessons, just Gaga evolving into the next phase of her life. The best part of it is that it’s not that glamorous or cleaned up. It’s just Gaga doing what she does best: singing, feeling, being in the moment. Gaga: Five Foot Two is a snapshot of a pop star, not offering an idea of where she’s going and not harking on where she’s been. But where Gaga is now seems like a strong place to be.