Rating: 4.5 stars
On September 22, “Five Foot Two” was released to wide audiences through the streaming platform Netflix.
The documentary, by director and visual artist Chris Moukarbel, follows Lady Gaga through the process of recording her fifth studio album “Joann”e and leading up to her Super Bowl LI performance. Through the doc’s 100-minute runtime, the audience is immersed in the icon’s striking humanity during moments of uncertainty and vulnerability.
“Five Foot Two” is a lyrical and compassionate documentary whose core is built over time from flakes of memories strewn together masterfully by the hands of Moukarbel.
One of the documentary’s strongest components is the lucid cinematography championed by Moukarbel– dreamlike yet never straying from poignancy. The film’s shots are coherent and fluid, and rarely allow for the scenes to lag or stray from the plot. The studio montages, scattered across the first half to symbolize her songwriting process, are packed with contagious energy.
Dancing around in a moth-holed white tee and cutoffs, Gaga seems perfectly at home. These little moments– dance parties, recording with Florence Welch, and moments afflicted by pure pain– are both beautiful to behold and seeping in nostalgia.
Although much of the documentary feels triumphant, Five Foot Two’s undercurrent of pain and sorrow can never be forgotten. Through the course of the film, Gaga deals with medical issues– pain that takes an apparent toll on her body and soul.
Additionally, she must uncover the guilt and grief that comes with writing off her father’s late sister, Joanne.
In perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene of the movie, Gaga must play for her grandmother her album’s cover song– “Joanne.”
Gaga, her father and grandmother sit in a small living room of her assisted living complex. “Take my hand/Stay Joanne/Heaven’s not ready for you/Every part of my aching heart/Needs you more than the angels do,” plays from Gaga’s iPhone. Tears, all-too well-known, ensue. The scene is difficult to watch, but contains power and dignity in its themes of love and a daughter trying to understand a family’s permanent grief.
Five Foot Two’s pacing is kept balanced by interesting montages (a compilation of paparazzi swarms from through the years is an especially useful example), and a focus on the idea of humanity, which each of Moukarbel scenes seem to take into account.
The documentary is also split into two halves– the production of “Joanne” and the lead-up to her famous Super Bowl performance. It should also be mentioned that this shift feels natural, Moukarbel creates a believable depiction of time passing with each scene.
“Five Foot Two” not only proves Moukarbel a gifted young director, but showcases Lady Gaga’s humanity, empathy, pain and grief as she goes through a transformative period in her life.
Image: The artwork for Lady Gaga’s Netflix documentary “Five Foot Two.” / NETFLIX