House of Gucci5 min read
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By: Hannah Strong
The devil works hard, but Ridley Scott works harder. This year has brought two lavish, large-scale productions from one of the most prolific directors of his generation. While his gruelling medieval drama The Last Duel was generally well-received by critics, its failure at the box office left many industry pundits speculating as to why a star-studded film from a well-regarded director failed to sell tickets.
Where the premise of that film – a young woman fights for justice after accusing her husband’s friend of rape in 14th-century France – might have been a hard sell, the latter of his 2021 efforts seems much more palatable, appealing to both Lady Gaga’s legion of dedicated fans and the hoards of true-crime obsessives who devour the likes of American Crime Story and Making a Murderer.
Indeed, House of Gucci’s ripped-from-the-headlines story of love, betrayal and family feuding in the upper echelons of the fashion world could hardly be more marketable – not least as it marks Gaga’s return to the big screen following her widely-praised turn in Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born.
Not that the role of Patrizia Reggiani feels like much of a stretch for her. There have been plenty of interview soundbites about her intense methodology for the role, but Gaga simply seems born to play Reggiani, a streetwise Italian who meets Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at a party in 1970 and sets her sights on marrying into a fashion dynasty. She possesses the charisma of Sharon Stone in Casino or Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface, instantly believable as a woman who knows what she wants and doesn’t have any qualms about getting it.
“I don’t consider myself a particularly ethical person, but I am fair,” she drawls in one scene – a cartoonish villainess in the vein of Cruella de Vil – but it somehow works within the outlandish world of the film, where every character is a little ridiculous but taken entirely seriously by both cast and script. This works in the film’s favour; it’s not exactly sympathetic, but Scott has made a solid attempt to get under the skin of his slippery characters. The only weak point in Gaga’s performance is her accent, although she’s hardly the worst offender in the film; Jeremy Irons, playing Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo, slips into his familiar British drawl every other sentence, while Jared Leto, as the buffoonish wannabe designer Paolo, appears to have based his dialect on the cartoon plumber Mario.
Running at almost three hours, the sprawling story encapsulates not only the turbulent union between Patrizia and Maurizio, but also the in-fighting at the heart of Gucci throughout the ’70s and ’80s, as warring factions within the family eventually brought about their own demise. It’s a Shakespearean tragedy of deceit and betrayal among men, with Patrizia subtly pulling the strings. But screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna avoid apportioning too much of the blame to the only woman in the room; it’s clear the ego clash at the heart of Gucci was merely exacerbated by Patrizia’s presence rather than caused by it.
For all the narrative ground it covers, House of Gucci is rarely boring. Gaga and Driver do their utmost to sell their roles, even if their chemistry is a little one-sided (this could be a character choice on Driver’s part, as Maurizio was by all accounts the most retiring member of the family). The most entertaining relationship in the film is between Patrizia and her psychic/co-conspirator Giuseppina Auriemma (Selma Hayek), who provides counsel – and later a hitman – for Signora Gucci. Hayek is always game, but it’s particularly gratifying to see her cast as a scammer with a heart of gold.
If there’s a weak spot in the cast, it’s Leto, who isn’t capable of taking a supporting role without making the whole world extremely aware of it. It just about works, given he’s playing the Gucci family’s Fredo Corleone, but his presence is frequently distracting. When he has to act alongside Al Pacino (playing his father and Gucci patriarch Aldo) it’s immediately clear what a real movie star looks like. Pacino is hamming it up here, too, but it’s still possible to take him seriously. There’s no risk of that with Leto.
In films like American Gangster and All the Money in the World, Scott has long shown an interest in the juxtaposition between glamour and criminality. House of Gucci is another prime example – and is perhaps the closest the director has ever come to satire. His take on the Guccis is reminiscent of the Bluths from Arrested Development, a family prone to hysterics and lacking self-awareness.
The costume design is sumptuous – the film makes full use of the Gucci archives to dig into the sartorial side of things – but even more interesting is how quickly these wealthy folk tire of their beautiful things. Acquisition of them is the important part; after that, a sort of listlessness creeps in, with stunning vistas nothing more than backdrops to petty arguments or lovers’ tiffs.
To this end, House of Gucci is perhaps a stronger inditement of the super-wealthy than it intends to be; they look every bit as miserable as the rest of us, just in fancier clothes. A late scene employs the ‘Humming Chorus’ from Giacomo Puccini’s ‘Madame Butterfly’ to genuinely moving effect, although most of the film plays up the bombastic, over-the-top reputation Gucci has courted for years. Scott clearly understands the real people at the heart of this story and how they tore each other apart.
A tighter edit might have heightened the drama even further, and the accent work is shaky to say the least, but House of Gucci is an enjoyable (and often interesting) entry into the Ridley Scott Historical Drama universe. With production on his Napoleon biopic expected to begin soon, the veteran filmmaker continues to show a fascination with the glamour of the past. Even when you get close enough to notice the seams aren’t quite straight, from a distance it’s all quite entertaining.
Some shocking accents on display in the trailer.
Entertaining, provided you can look past whatever Leto is doing.
A luxe, rather ridiculous look at the uber-rich.
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