The temptation to make a Madonna comparison usually looms large with many things Gaga. In "Truth or Dare" there's the famous "neat!" scene where Madonna rips on Kevin Costner once he's left the room. In "Five Foot Two", Lady Gaga ensures that the circle of celebrity criticism remains unbroken by ripping on Madonna ... because Madonna once ripped on her. Through the media and not to her face. Why couldn't she contact me directly, says Gaga (to the cameras filming this documentary, rather than to Madonna's face)? And so on, forever.
After dressing up under different personas for most of the 1980's, "Truth or Dare" purported to show a more genuine, unfiltered, more human side of Madonna. It accomplished that goal, but it's "realness" was still a delicately crafted promotional tool. It helped repackage her as a serious artist and aspiring actress who had moved on from the superficial glamour of the "Material Girl" character. "Five Foot Two" has the same goal, but I can't help but feel that I'm watching a similarly calculated form of "realness". After "Evita", Madonna had gotten the acting bug out of her system, and it was time to hit the reset button again with "Ray of Light". I think Lady Gaga is similarly addicted to reinvention, it's worked too well for her in the past to give up on it so easily.
The most uncomfortable, insincere scene in the film involves Gaga's family. She plays back a song on her phone that she wrote about her aunt who passed away nearly forty years earlier. The scene seems engineered to release a flood of emotions from her grandmother, leading to a big cry for the whole family that will look good on camera. But her grandmother apparently didn't realize that she had to play along. She says it's a lovely song, but don't worry, her daughter is gone but will never be forgotten. She's dealt with the grief for decades already, there's nothing a song can do to help her tap into new emotions.
However, there are a number of raw, beautiful scenes in the film. The friendship and respect between Gaga and Mark Ronson. Her difficult, but ultimately inspiring battle with chronic pain. The stunning, piano-led rendition of "Bad Romance" sung at Tony Bennett's 90th birthday party. But I never got a sense of how she deals with the adversity in her life. The film informs us that yes, she does have health and relationship struggles like the rest of us, and then cuts to a studio session or photo shoot or meeting with industry bigwigs (unlike the rest of us). How does she overcome and still maintain her career at such a high level? We see the good times and the bad, but it's like they're happening to two separate people.