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« The Martyr Mothers of Darren Aronofsky | Main | IT 2 Floats, Too »
Tuesday
Sep262017

Doc Corner: 'Gaga: Five Foot Two' Does the Lady a Disservice

by Glenn Dunks

Lady Gaga can be a great musician, it’s true. But the new documentary about her, Gaga: Five Foot Two, would make anybody unfamiliar with her question why. The film follows a year with the singer as she records her latest album, Joanne (admission: I’m not a fan), and prepares for the big stage of the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Yet something about this film lingers as ever so slightly off.

Part of the problem with Chris Moukarbel’s film is that it’s never quite verite. The camera is never just a fly on the wall to Gaga’s world, but instead a witness to events that lack authenticity...

I suspect that’s the result of a rather amateurish production that wallows in bio-doc clichés both in dramatics and in craft where scene after scene feels set up to be A Moment for a film about Gaga. Whether that be giving life advice while casually cooking in the kitchen dressed in some sort of perplexing tracksuit leotard, giving pre-show pep talks, engaging with a super-fan or as she sits outside her recording studio talking about Madonna*.

What makes all of this particularly aggravating is that the film is positioned as a sort of rebirth of the Gaga brand, the culmination of her Oscar-affiliated re-emergence as a Serious Musician that is just as calculated as any red carpet stunt. Unlike, for instance, Madonna: Truth of Dare – which this film thankfully doesn’t try to replicate – which was all about myth-building and commenting on fame by revelling in what audiences love so much about it, Five Foot Two purports to be about the tearing down of myths.

A glimpse behind the curtain of a woman who’s fed up with the bullshit of the world and wants to be seen not so much as Lady Gaga, but Stefani Germanotta: Serious Musician**.

With her outrageous theatrics now seemingly a thing of the past, her efforts to re-emerge as Serious Gaga often come off as both pompously self-important and somewhat disingenuous. It’s true that the Ridiculous Gaga of yore was often exhausting, but this version is, quite frankly, just a bit of a bore.

And when in the opening minutes there is a throwaway reference to her upcoming role in Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born lands with an eyeroll and a humblebrag, it’s seems quite clear that Five Foot Two and surely Gaga herself are complicit in their own form of myth-making. Because of this disconnect, the documentary simply doesn’t work. It isn’t surprising then the movie is at its best when the artifice is well and truly stripped away, such as in heartbreaking scenes of Gaga suffering from chronic pain courtesy of a broken hip several years ago.

Five Foot Two belatedly attempts to soar towards the end as Gaga prepares for her artistic and creative moment on the world stage at the Super Bowl halftime show performance. Frustratingly, we don’t actually get to see the final results (rights issues, I am sure), which in effect lessens the impact of the film’s dramatic crescendo. What a triumph it would have been to see her suffer through her pain only to come out the other side victorious. This when coupled with only fleeting sequences of her recording Joanne in studio, and it strikes as a disappointing missed opportunity. She might not agree, but the world needs the vibrancy and the electricity of her performance. That this film all but skips over this part of her legacy means that Five Foot Two comes off as less of a triumph, but instead a dimming of her career to a faint glow and a film unworthy of its talented subject.

* Remember when Madonna could make multiple concert documentaries and not mention another popstar once because she was the only one that mattered. Gaga mentions Madonna before the ten-minute mark! Make of that what you will.

** She will be credited as Stefani Germanotta in A Star is Born, I film I still do not believe isn’t just an elaborate hoax born out of a Saturday Night Live writers’ room celebrity madlibs session.

Release: Streaming everywhere now on Netflix.

Oscar Chance: The Sound of Music and "Til it Happens to You" will almost certainly not climax in a doc nomination. This is not the sort of celebrity bio-doc that the branch goes for. Netflix have far bigger fish to fry in this race.

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Reader Comments (8)

See, I never much cared for Lady Gaga - right through The Fame, its subsequent sequel and Born This Way. She always felt so studied, so insincere - striving for the character and personality of a Grace Jones or a Madonna or a Cher, yet without the human eccentricity to back that character up.

When she became more self-referential to this "quick-study" approach on Artpop I liked her more and I listen to a handful of Joanne tracks regularly - again, the more exposed she becomes as a "calculating" individual, living an endless cycle of overthought set-pieces? I warm to her more. THAT is character, just not the one she perhaps aims to convey.

Anyway, I doubt that I'll watch this film, despite the great article above. I suspect I had more fun reading it than I would watching the documentary...

September 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

Despite my antagonism towards you in the past, I want to prepare you Glenn for the onslaught of her die hard enablers. Who'll take you to task over your negative review painting their goddess as the fraud she is.

September 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

As a diehard Gaga fan, I appreciate this review and even agree with some of its insights. The Lady is a complex individual with an endless well of talent, but the presentation of her persona sometimes gets in the way. Thanks, Glenn, for a thoughtful and intriguing review.

September 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Who is the audience for this singer,She's made some good pop songs and surrounded herself in kook but what has she really done apart with each album alienate more and more people all to elevate herself to females who just were themselves and not calculated.

September 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

One of the funniest moments (early on) in Truth Or Dare is when Madonna imitates and dismisses Belinda Carlisle. In that documentary she was hardly a paragon of security and confidence—at least, not believable confidence.

September 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

Hayden, I have forgotten that moment! Although, that wasn't what I was getting at. More that that film is all about building of the idea of a great pop star and all the dichotomies that that entails (being a bitch, being sexy, etc) which, ironically, is what people now use against her. Oh well.

Brooksboy, I'm happy that as a fan of Gaga you're able to see what I was getting at. I struggled with the wording here, not trying to come off as somebody who just didn't like what they were watching. The presentation of her skills is often skewed. It just really turned me off here because she is clearly angling to be seen as a serious musician with serious ideas (which she is and which she has), but they too often come off as bio-doc cliches and insencere "here's a moment we can use in the press tour" moments.

September 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I'm a late-comer to Gaga's fanbase—The Fame, while admittedly catchy, left me cold (save Paparazzi), and the less said about Born This Way the better—but am very much in her corner now. (How many artists could segue so beautifully from Artpop, her best album, to a jazz album with Tony Bennett?) That said, this doc, which I watched while getting my teeth cleaned, is rubbish. Gaga is not (yet) at the point where she has thrown all caution to the wind, and that's a serious hindrance to a "revealing" documentary of this sort.

Gaga seems to me to be in the Jane Fonda school of revealingly unrevealing, meaning she'll say a lot without saying much of lasting to a persona prone to mutation disguised as "growth." We've become inoculated to it, so then are nonplussed but it. (Years ago, there was even street art in Manhattan featuring a 15-year-old Gaga looking very much like now, exclaiming: "I am Lady Gaga, a singer/songwriter. You're going to know me one day." And we do!)

I love her regardless, admire her talent, and wish her the best.

September 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

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April 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteralexphilips

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