There’s a scene in Five Foot Two, Lady Gaga’s new Netflix documentary, where she shares "Joanne," the song she wrote in honour of her aunt who died of Lupus at nineteen, with her grandmother. It’s an emotional moment that comes after Gaga has gone through boxes of her aunt’s old things — poems, artwork, notes. But it’s also an awkward one. Gaga assures her grandmother that if she gets upset listening to the song, she doesn’t have to talk about it. "It’s been a long time," her grandmother responds. "It’s been over 40 years, so." It’s not that her grandmother doesn’t think about her daughter every day — there’s a portrait of her right near the kitchen table. It’s that she’s had four decades to come to terms with Joanne’s death. Gaga, on the other hand, is only just grappling with the pain. “Did I do a good job?” she asks through tears.
Rather than delve into her childhood or her rise to fame, director Chris Moukarbe follows Gaga through her recording of Joanne and her 2017 Super Bowl performance. The narrow focus might have been an asset to the movie, setting it apart from the likes of Katy Perry’s more formulaic Part of Me, were this particular chapter of her life compelling. But aside from the story about her aunt and a few brief mentions about her split from Taylor Kinney, there’s not an arc to the documentary, let alone stakes. You get no real insight into her writing process, other than that it involves a piano, Mark Ronson, and a studio booth, and she doesn’t overcome any particular challenge. What makes the movie captivating, at least in spurts, is Gaga’s fragile emotional state. She cries a lot, she has meltdowns, and she often seems more needy than independent. The “I am woman, hear me roar” sheen that you might expect from a pop star like Gaga is nowhere to be found. Depending on who you ask, that might make her more relatable.
The myth is that once you turn 30, you magically become the most put-together version of yourself — you don’t even care what people think! "I’m 30 and I feel better than ever," Gaga says within the first five minutes fo the doc. "All my insecurities are gone. I don’t feel insecure about who I am as a woman." Only she spends much of the next hour-and-a-half undermining that claim, seeking approval and praise from almost everyone around her. It’s not that she isn't confident. It's not that she hasn’t grown (I assume she has). It’s that you don’t emotionally, mentally, and spiritually peak at 30. You face setbacks (in Gaga's case, chronic pain and a breakup).
On top of that, she's famous. As she said this week, the movie "reveals that fame is not all it’s cracked up to be. It is lonely, it is isolating, and it is very psychologically challenging because fame changes the way you’re viewed by people." More than that, it fixes the way you’re viewed by people. Gaga makes the point during a meeting with a her creative advisers that she's no longer giving the people Meat Dress Gaga. "I want to do the opposite of what everyone thinks I'm gonna do," she says. She wonders later if her fans will accept her changing.
The movie ends with Gaga heading out to perform the Super Bowl halftime, a show that viewers know turns out to be successful. But it doesn't exactly end on a triumphant note, with a sense that everything is going to be okay. Gaga is still a work in progress, she's still going to suffer from chronic pain, and she's still being "maudlin" despite her grandmother's wise advice. She's trying to grow and hopes her fans grow with her; as with any relationship, the alternative is that they grow apart.