In many ways, Lady Gaga’s new Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, is her standard pop star documentary, in the vein of Madonna’s Truth or Dare or Katy Perry’s Part of Me. She follows her as she writes and records songs and music videos for her album Joanne, and prepares for concert appearances (including her performance in Super Bowl XLI). There are glimpses of his family life, and Lady Gaga, or in this case, the old Stefani Germanotta, attends a baptism as the godmother of one of the babies of her bandmates. You know their parents and grandparents. All the standard celebrity documentary material.
What sets Gaga apart: Five Foot Two is Lady Gaga’s willingness to put her fight against chronic pain, specifically her fibromyalgia, at the center of her story. In fact, the entire document is full of pain and trauma, and the struggle to maintain not only your sanity but continues to function at a high level. The movie begins with Gaga getting out of bed and receiving a treatment for her hip pain. Then we know right away that the pain is going to be front and center.
Around 38 minutes of the film, after a moving scene in which Gaga plays a song for her father and grandmother, we see her in a complete burst of fibro, which at the time of filming was not diagnosed. We see Lady Gaga, lying on the couch under a towel, crying, describing “the entire right side of my body in a spasm.” It is powerful and something that every person with fibromyalgia has suffered. She even recognizes, for her credit, I think, how her privilege as a massively famous and wealthy cheerleader allows her access to constant and excellent medical care. “I think of other people who have, maybe something like that, but who are struggling to find out what it is, and do not have the money for someone to help them,” she says. “And I do not know what I would do without all these people to help me. What the hell was he going to do?
It’s a good question and one that many, if not most, people with fibromyalgia wonder about every day. We know how difficult it is to get a doctor to take it seriously, how stigmatized chronic pain is. And most people do not have millions of dollars and nurses as part of their environment. But it’s still quite surprising to see her go from that to playing “Bad Romance” for Tony Bennett’s birthday a few hours later.
Then, we have a montage of his work, squeezing the paparazzi, recording the greetings from the radio station, surprising the fans. It is somehow inspiring to see someone go from so much pain to being “non-stop” to a voracious and adoring public. Once again, this is all that is known as pop stars: Gaga deals with a public separation, worrying about whether her fans will always like her new image, will the album be good?
But fibro things are what remains with you. We see her visit her doctor, listing her symptoms and medications. This is one of those moments of “Stars, they are like us” that celebrities try to carry out, and not always successfully. But Lady Gaga manages to do it. She receives a trigger point injection and we can see it, while she is stressed because the new album is leaking online.
“Awareness” is one of those rare terms that is used a lot for diseases like fibromyalgia, and I’m not always sure it’s enough for people to be “aware” that something exists. But Lady Gaga’s decision to show up with so much pain and allow us to enter her doctor’s office seems to be more than a simple awareness. It can really weaken the stigma of these chronic diseases. No one could, watching Lady Gaga go through her preparations to perform in the Super Bowl, and call her “vagabond”, which is a common insult thrown at people with chronic pain conditions. I guess there are some who could see this and say, “Well, if Lady Gaga can do it, why can not you get out of bed?”
But he completely ignores the point. As Gaga herself points out, she has a lot of money to pay for first class medical care, money that not everyone has. But there is also a vulnerability that shows that many celebrities of your size do not, and that is a big problem.
Definitely watch the movie, especially if you’re a fan. But even if you’re not, it’s still an important movie, to show fibromyalgia in such an intimate setting.