Five Foot Two Review- Gaga Lifts Poker Face. Monsters & Spoonies Unite
Five Foot Two is not a documentary about fibromyalgia. It’s about Stefani Germanotta, Empress and Artist – who lives with fibro. All hail the queen.
It seems like everybody’s talking about mother lately.
It’s not just me who noticed, right? She’s hit the papers plenty of times before, but this feels different. Maybe it is just me, seeing countless articles about it all through my vast following of assorted chronic illness media forms. That said, even my own (non-monster) mother rang me last week to say “did ya hear that Lady Thingy has that fibro-my-gal-ee-aaahh?” Thanks Ma, yes I did.
Because that’s what I’m talking about, of course. Lady Gaga recently told the world that she has fibromyalgia, in the same week that she released her intimate documentary Five Foot Two.
Trailer for Five Foot Two, available on Netflix
Potential triggers in Five Foot Two: Drug use/injectables/smoking, moderate nudity, medical procedures, flashing lights, reference to depression and panic attacks, cancer, death, Lupus old-school treatment descriptions, drowning, claustrophobia, crowd phobia
Now, before you read any further, you need to understand – I am a little monster. I’m a BIG little monster. I adore Gaga. I’ve been following her career for years, from that first iconic, heart-stopping ascendance from the swimming pool in Poker Face, right up til Joanne (which I will defend FOREVER, it’s a gorgeous album.) I was fortunate enough to be able to go and see her perform in 2010, when I was pregnant. My baby’s dad witnessed Bowie in utero – his son got his protégé!
Say what you want about Gaga, but one thing’s for sure – she’s incredibly talented. I haven’t seen her since, unfortunately, but I own all her albums, her Monster High dolly, her perfume, and other stuff that I didn’t need, but wanted. You bet your sweet bippy I wanna smell like talent and success.
I’m also a spoonie. A spoonie is a person with chronic illness and limited energy resources. I have probably got Elhers-Danlos Syndrome, a complex genetic tissue disorder that affects the joints and other things. I can’t seem to get a proper diagnosis, but that’s a whole other article. I’m hypermobile, I have arthritis, I have Irritable Bowl Syndrome with food intolerances, and my blood pressure is prone to dropping suddenly. I also have severe anxiety and complex PTSD, and I’m prone to depression. I’m a chronic insomniac. I live in daily pain. Each morning I take upwards of nine different doses of assorted prescribed medications. I fight my brain every day. I’m used to it.
I’m also a music lover. So when I heard about Five Foot Two, I was extremely excited. As previously mentioned, I adore the Joanne album, and was super pumped about getting into the tiny details of an insight into its creation. Then Gaga announces she’s got fibro. All of a sudden, ALL my spoonie friends are excited, too.
I won’t lie, some defensive little alarm bells went off. As much as I love Gaga, she’s not perfect. She’s appropriated and sexualised the burka, called herself a g*psy, she collaborated with R. Kelly even though he has abuse convictions – has everyone just forgotten that all of a sudden? As much as I love her, I sure haven’t forgotten about these things or accepted that questionable side of her.
But I also haven’t forgotten the other things she’s done. She set up the Born This Way Foundation. She’s donated and helped raise literal millions of dollars for HIV research and relief after multiple natural disasters. At the site of the Pulse massacre she comforted and rallied the queer community. She’s raised money for cancer patients, and campaigned for LGBT+ rights multiple times. Gaga has been working hard for so many of us for YEARS. When she opened up about her rape recently, she became a hero for me all over again. I’ve never loved her as much as I have this year.
She broke her hip in 2013 while touring, and she tested borderline positive for Lupus in 2010, so she’s been talking about pain for a while now. For a diehard fan like me, the diagnosis wasn’t a surprise at all. When I heard, I literally shrugged and kept scrolling. It was just so underwhelming for me. I would’ve been much more surprised if she announced she was making a full recovery.
Watching Five Foot Two – My Monster Spoonie Review
I went into watching Five Foot Two with high hopes, adoration in my heart, glass of whiskey, a bottle of nail varnish, and a measure of fear. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I didn’t want the chronic illness community to influence my feelings about the documentary. That’s because of one prediction that I got absolutely right – this is NOT a documentary about chronic pain or illness. This is a look into the life of a person – a queer, talented, famous, rich person who also happens to have fibromyalgia (although we don’t know this at the time of the documentary being shot) and PTSD.
And, to be honest, I’m delighted. I’m so pleased that it’s not a chronic illness documentary, because that’s how it is to live with it. Chronic pain is just part of the package of Gaga’s life, and that’s absolutely true of the rest of us who live with it, too.
I identified powerfully with a lot of the subtler moments in Five Foot Two – like Gaga’s reluctance to put on makeup after a long, long stint in the studio. When you’re hurting, even just makeup can be so uncomfortable to wear. Then there’s the ice pack silently placed on her hip while she’s shooting Perfect Illusion.
We see her crying in agony, unable to move, sweating, frustrated and miserable on the couch in her apartment one night, where she says, “my f*cking face hurts” – an exact sentiment I’ve cried with just as much misery. And the next day, she’s on her balcony working out. Maybe there were days in between the cuts, I don’t know – but either way, that is how it is. You can be fine one day and dying the next. And you learn to just roll with it.
I’m also very happy, as most people seem to be, that such a powerhouse of fame is opening up the dialogue and showing some snippets into the reality of living with chronic illness and pain. She even admits her own privilege in the documentary, and I would’ve been disappointed if she didn’t. Because, let’s face it, Mom’s rich. She has her own special at-home (that’s a heat machine thing for pain, specifically in this case an infrared sauna), an on-call masseuse, access to the best healthcare, an at-home gym, a cosy private plane, and even a person to bring her her medicines. The rest of us don’t have those things. We just have to remember to take our meds on our own.
The fact that she looked straight down the barrel of the camera and said “it’s fine for me, I have all these things” is really important. The rest of us, generally, don’t cope as well. In fact, people with no money have no access to pain relief/ treatment/ mobility aids, and they, unquestionably, suffer the most. If you’re paying attention, you’ll have noticed the links between poverty and illness.
I’m concerned too, though. I see all of these sources talking about Gaga all of a sudden, and I’m getting worried. I don’t want her to become the poster child for chronic pain. The primary reason being that there is no poster child – we’re all so different in how we experience our diseases, in what gives us relief, and what we can and cannot do.
The other reason is that she’s really not giving us a look at average spoonie life. She’s a goddamned superstar.
She doesn’t do laundry, she doesn’t have to worry about getting from place to place, she has a nutritionist and a special cook and a pill lackey and who knows what else. The rest of us don’t, and that’s where our spoons get spent.
I spend so much energy every day trying to do the laundry, and the ironing pile (AKA Mount Doom) has featured in more than one of my nightmares. She doesn’t have to deal with this stuff. Every scrap of her energy goes into doing what she loves – creating music, acting, and being a star. She’s obviously suffering through all of that, but she is an intensely privileged spoonie. She wouldn’t be making so much music if she also had to spend ten to fifteen minutes lying on the couch to recover from standing over the stove three times a day.
There are so many familiar moments in the documentary, even though my life is obviously nothing like hers. It’s the subtle little things that I felt a connection to – her repeated statements of “I’m so tired” (hands up spoonies, who says that daily?). She expresses fears about her ability to ever give birth, talks about her pain being all over/ global, knows her long list of medications without even having to really think about it, and talks about pushing through the pain – “I can go, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not in pain.”
For those of us who know the juggling act of balancing out your energy and pain levels with your abilities and stress levels (plus whatever other everyday responsibilities us mortals have), that chronic pain clearly visible in her behaviour; particularly in the Perfect Illusion shoot. She’s obviously exhausted and the work is done, but the scenery is perfect for one more shoot. You can see her mentally weighing up whether or not she can do it, and then decide, “yeah, I can do this.”
There’s a lot of familiar little mental health moments in the Five Foot Two doc, too. Gaga mentions having a panic attack more than once. She cries a lot. One of the most moving and powerful scenes in the entire documentary is a shot with no picture – just a black screen, and Gaga sobbing her heart out. She never explains it, but the gasping sobs and heartbroken cries sound very like a panic attack to me. It then cuts back to a video shoot of her in a pool, with her talking about her failed relationships dubbed over. It’s very heavy and creates a feeling of drowning in your emotions – something familiar to those of us who know that dark, miserable place.
There’s a lot of light too, though. Gaga’s a lovely person. There are some gorgeous scenes of her sitting in the sunshine, talking about her growth, and how far she’s come.
She’s a perfectionist in her work – vaguely reminiscent of James Brown – but she treats her staff so, so well. They feel like a giant family when you watch them all on screen together. Even when she’s unhappy, she treats her people very well. She’s free spirited and passionate and comfortable. She happily eats with her fingers topless in front of the camera at one point, no craps given. I think that’s my favourite thing about her – she just owns not caring about what others think so damn well.
The highlight of the whole documentary for me was absolutely the musical performances. I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned them yet. They are FANTASTIC. My lord, she can sing. You could power cities with that voice. We see her working in the studio, nude-faced and messy-bunned, engrossed. We witness her bent defeated over her keyboard, smacking out chords emotionally. Then we see her fully glitzed out and soulfully singing Bad Romance at NYC’s Rainbow Room, which is nothing short of heart-stopping. It’s my favourite scene in the whole documentary. Five Foot Two is worth watching for the music alone.
This is a personal, emotional, powerful documentary. It’s engrossing, sweet, and funny. Nothing in it is surprising – it’s all typical Gaga behaviour. It’s all very real, and she’s so damn talented. She cherishes the people she’s close to, her faith, and her work. I honestly cried like a baby in the scene where she first plays Joanne for her grandmother.
It’s quite raw and vulnerable, this documentary, which I also felt something of when I first heard the Joanne album. This is the Gaga that I’ve been waiting for. This is Stefani.
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