Before we celebrate arguably the worst holiday of the year next week, April Fool’s Day, let us first turn our attention to the best: Lady Gaga‘s birthday. (Technically, it is not a holiday, but it surely should be.) That’s right, today, March 28, the Grammy-winning rockstar and Academy-Award-winning actress turns 33. And what better way to honor this special day than by queuing up the excellent 2017 documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, on Netflix?
Over the years, Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, has morphed dramatically; and public perception has morphed along with her. In 2008, when she first hit the music scene with her debut album, The Fame, she was an enigma, hiding behind masks and dark sunglasses. Two years later, in 2010, she was a disrupter, wearing a dress made of meat which now resides in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. By 2012, she was an advocate, with the LGBT, believe-in-yourself anthem “Born This Way.” In Five Foot Two, directed by Chris Moukarbel, we got a new version of Gaga: Stripped down, intimate and authentic.
It’s a fascinating film to look back on a year and a half later, when the singer’s public perception has shifted yet again, following Gaga’s Academy-Award nominated role in A Star is Born. The film, at a clean 100 minutes, takes little interest in anything Gaga before 2016, when she was finishing up her fifth studio album, Joanne. We begin by entering Gaga’s kitchen as she and her cook are putting together a meal. As she fries up chicken, Gaga speaks to the camera like a close friend about her relationships woes with then-fiancee Taylor Kinney. “My threshold for bullshit with men is like… it’s just, I don’t have one anymore,” Gaga declares, a line that made her so likable and relatable it went viral on Twitter.
Soon after, we learn Warner Brothers has just green-lit a film for which Gaga is set to star: a little ditty called A Star is Born, directed by Bradley Cooper. She announces this news—for which someone has sent her balloons—with a small, pleased smile, and you can just feel how many dreams are coming true in that moment.
We see her in the studio with producer Mark Ronson, with whom she has a playful, sibling-esque relationship. We see her respond to Madonna’s accusations of plagiarism (“Telling me that you think I’m a piece of shit in the media is like a guy passing me a note through his friend.”). We see her sobbing on the couch, in physical pain from what she later diagnosed as fibromyalgia. We see her casually topless—which is apparently “more comfortable”—in a business meeting about her Super Bowl performance. Her intelligence, awareness, sensitivity, and authenticity bleed through in all of these scenes, even if she is a bit of a diva, like in her meltdown on the set of American Horror Story.
Five Foot Two (the title of which, by the way, is a reference to the pop star’s minuscule height) received just OK reviews when it came out—critics pointed to a lack of focus and story arc—but the film, like most documentaries of this nature, is really for fans, and on that it absolutely delivers. Here is Gaga: no wigs, no costumes, no make-up, and sometimes no shirt talking about her insecurities, her struggles with love and her fears of inadequacy. And despite the fact that she is an insanely rich, international superstar, none of it comes off as “rich people problems.” If anything, it’s a reminder to her many adoring Little Monsters that these feelings are part of being human—even for Lady Gaga.
After hearing “Shallow” on the radio one too many times—and after hearing Lady Gaga posit that Bradley Cooper was the one out of 100 people in a room that believed in her a few too many times—Gaga has, in the eyes of the public, become something of a parody of herself these days. (It doesn’t help to have rumors that she and Avengers’ star Jeremy Renner are dating swirling around.) It’s hard to say what version of Gaga we’ll get next, but the one in Five Foot Two remains my favorite to date. On this happy day, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the Queen of Pop.