' ' Cinema Romantico: Gaga: Five Foot Two

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Gaga: Five Foot Two

The key scene in the just-premiered Netflix documentary “Gaga: Five Foot Two” finds the titular pop star playing the title track to her new album, “Joanne”, for her grandmother. This is because Joanne was her grandmother’s daughter, Gaga’s father’s sister, and Gaga’s aunt, though Gaga never met her because Joanne died at the age of 19 from lupus. Before playing the song, however, Gaga’s Grandmother shows her granddaughter a poem that Joanne wrote, and when Gaga reads it, Lord, it’s like she’s looking in a mirror. The poem goes: “I wear a mask / a thousand masks / so I play the game / the glittering but empty parade of the masks.”

“Gaga: Five Foot Two” opens in the throes of her recent Super Bowl halftime show, the camera positioned just below her dangling glittery boots as she is suspended in mid-air from a harness, her face off camera, before the wires pull her up, up and up, as if disappearing into the heavens. It then cuts directly to her at home, in sweatpants, feeding chicken to her dogs. This is clearly a mission statement, the documentary seeking to cut through the makeup and wigs and artistic artifice, to find Stefani Joanne Germanotta. And occasionally the finished product does stumble into a delightfully unforced intimacy, like the aforementioned scene at her grandmother’s, where Stefani asks her father if he wants a cup of coffee, and her father’s smartphone peeks out from the top of his button-up’s front pocket, which isn’t anything really other than a happy accident of natural costume design. On the other hand, when Gaga, in the middle of a backyard business conversation, appears topless, it feels less real than calculated. Either way, director Chris Moukarbe can never connect any of this normality, real or imagined, to the documentary’s through-line.

That through-line is the recording of “Joanne”, which we see in bits and pieces, at the studio, in the mixing room. We only hear a handful of songs, like the title track, like “A Million Reasons”, but very little insight is convyed about the record’s intent or how it connects to who she is. “I am Joanne. I am my father’s daughter. That’s what this record about,” she tells New York Times writer Darryl Pinckney. Pinckney’s expression remains rather blank, like he’s taking this statement as the banality it is rather than an unpacking of what that statement means, which is what “Gaga: Five Feet Two” repeatedly avoids, whether by accident or design.

Whatever meaning the doc does impart just sort of intrinsically rises from the footage itself. The most genuinely affecting moments in “Gaga: Five Feet Two” are seeing her cope with grueling physical injuries suffered from her arduous concerts, as well as confessing to a doctor the emotional stress constantly eating at her and that, contradictorily, sadly, the only place she feels free from that emotional toil is the place that causes her physical toil – that is, the stage, and, even more, the act of performance, which, judging by so much of the content here, might be, as has been the case for so many artists, her genuine addiction.

“She had a lot of talent,” says Gaga’s grandmother of the real Joanne, “but she didn’t have much time.” You can’t help but wonder if Gaga has taken that as something like a personal creed, to pack in everything, which is why we see her jumping from project to project throughout the film, from recording her album to acting on “American Horror Story” to playing her music live to planning her Super Bowl halftime show. And the movie ends there, at the Super Bowl, where, just before she takes the stage, her handlers fasten a mask to her face. Then the movie cycles back around to the opening shot, where she is lifted into the air and vanishes.

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