In a lot of ways, Lady Gaga’s new Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, is your standard pop star documentary, in the vein of Madonna’s Truth or Dare or Katy Perry’s Part of Me. It follows her around as she’s writing and recording songs and music videos for her album Joanne, and preparing for concert appearances (including her performance at Super Bowl XLI). There are glimpses of her family life, and Lady Gaga, or in this case, regular old Stefani Germanotta, attends a baptism as the godmother to one of her bandmates’ babies. You meet her parents and grandparents. All standard celebrity documentary material.
What sets Gaga: Five Foot Two apart is Lady Gaga’s willingness to put her struggle with chronic pain, specifically her fibromyalgia, front and center in her story. In fact, the whole doc is shot through with pain and trauma, and the struggle to maintain not just her sanity but continue to function at a high level. The film opens with Gaga getting out of bed and getting a treatment for her hip pain. So right away we know that pain is going to be front and center.
About 38 minutes into the film, after a moving scene in which Gaga plays a song for her father and grandmother, we see her in a full blown fibro flare, which at the time of the filming was undiagnosed. We see Lady Gaga, lying on the couch under a towel, crying, describing “the entire right side of my body in a spasm.” It’s powerful, and something that every person with fibromyalgia has gone through. She even acknowledges, to her credit, I think, how her privilege as a massively famous and wealthy entertainer allows her access to constant and excellent healthcare. “I think of other people that have, maybe something like this, but that are struggling to figure out what it is, and don’t have the money to have someone help them,” she says. “And I don’t know what I’d do without all these people to help me. What the hell would I do?”
It’s a good question and one that many, if not most, people with fibromyalgia ask themselves on a daily basis. We know how hard it is to get a doctor to take it seriously, how stigmatized chronic pain is. And most people don’t have millions of dollars and nurses as part of their entourage. But it’s still pretty amazing to see her go from that to performing a lights-out rendition of “Bad Romance” for Tony Bennett’s birthday just hours later.
Next, we get a montage of her working, squeezing past paparazzi, recording radio station greetings, surprising fans. In a way it’s inspiring, to see someone go from being in so much pain to being non-stop “on” for an adoring, voracious public. Again, this is all standard celebrity pop star stuff: Gaga dealing with a public breakup, worrying about whether her long-time fans will like her new look, will the record be any good?