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House of Gucci review: Lady Gaga takes this movie to the stratosphere

House of Gucci review

I’ve been trying for days now to determine exactly when my soul left my body and ascended to paradise during my… House of Gucci screening. Looking through my increasingly erratic notes, it seems like Jared Leto, who plays middle-aged pot-bellied failed Paolo Gucci, is up against his cousin Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga – we’ll get to her in a minute), with so all much pathos, that he was “a in-a-bed, with a bowl – a gelato cioccolata, and – a very dark one – a mind.” If you read that in the voice of an American pasta sauce ad, you’ve done it right.

What is this movie anyway? An image tweeted from the set last March — with Gaga and co-star Adam Driver in cable knit sweaters, he decked out in huge glasses and she in a towering furry hat, standing against a snowy backdrop — pandemic-crazed Twitter caught fire. Then the trailer fell in July, and… well, I mean, just go check it out. It’s exquisite.

The movie selling the trailer is actually a bit more saucer-like and wild than the real one House of Gucci, which would be a pointless and somewhat perfunctory dud were it not for the brilliance or madness of the performances. Screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna turned the story of the murder of Maurizio Gucci (Driver), based on the book by Sara Gay Forden, into a kind of rags-to-riches story crossed with serious Machiavelli vibes, but the psychological reality never lands properly. Ridley Scott, who seems to have gleefully slipped into his “I’m 83, why” should not I make this movie”, he sat in the director’s chair and began directing his cast.

That cast: Gaga, Driver, Leto, plus Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino as the Gucci Patriarchs and Salma Hayek in a small role as a psychic. (It doesn’t matter, but I keep thinking about it: Hayek is married to François-Henri Pinault, the chairman and CEO of luxury fashion group Kering, which owns Gucci, among other things.) Look, if you’re Ridley Scott, you get the cast you want.

Lady Gaga and Jared Leto in House of Gucci.

As you may have noticed, none of these people (well, with credit to iconic Italian Americans Pacino and Gaga) are actually from Italy, despite playing some very famous people who were. The film is not in Italian; it’s in english, and everyone does a certain accent. Irons and driver are fine. Gaga goes for it (though there is some debate as to whether she really sounds Russian). Leto is absurd. Pacino is a bit half-hearted the accent, but that doesn’t matter if you’re Al Pacino. They drink espresso and dance in clubs and on the moon around gigantic estates and argue over who is a disappointment to the family – basic activities of rich people.

Actually, Activities for rich people would have been a decent working title for the movie, never really finding a way to make us care about the characters outside of the people playing them. From the first scene, we know that this is a movie about how Maurizio Gucci was murdered, which happened on March 27, 1995, on the steps of his office in Milan. But Gaga plays Patrizia, his wife, and the story is really about her.

And how. Patrizia is a fireball from the moment we meet her, waving across the parking lot of her family business as the men shout catcalls in her direction. She accidentally meets Maurizio at a party and charms him into giving up his place in his family’s lucrative fashion business, much to the fear of his father, actor Rodolfo Gucci (Irons), to be with her. That’s all fine, for a while, but Patrizia grows tired of being poor for no reason, and works Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Pacino), who runs the company, to get her beloved husband back in. Fortunately, Aldo’s son Paolo (Leto), whose wild ideas about fashion don’t fit the image of Gucci’s older generation, is what Rodolfo calls “a triumph of mediocrity,” and Aldo is more than happy to invest his trust in his nephew. instead.

House of Gucci spans decades, in which Patrizia and Maurizio go through a lot together. But somehow, despite being nearly three hours in length, the film never really gets to grips with the motivations or psychology of its characters (with the possible exception of the sad sack Paolo). They are stock game characters, reenacting a story that has already been told. You can imagine a version of this made by Ryan Murphy that would be both worse and more readable, emotionally, for the audience.

On the other hand, who cares? House of Gucci is probably the funniest comedy and dopiest tragedy of the year. Everyone gasps at the landscape. (Driver is somehow the dullest person in the movie.) People deliver downright ridiculous lines; Paolo answers everything with melodious nonsense, such as “does an elephant – a sheet in the jungle?” or “I will fly at last, like a dove!” Aldo arrives to meet his brother Rodolfo and finds him on the back patio, staring into the distance, with the world’s largest, camel-colored, presumably cashmere scarf slung dramatically around his neck. I couldn’t stop laughing.

A family stands together in a living room.
Jared Leto, Florence Andrews, Adam Driver, Lady Gaga and Al Pacino in House of Gucci.

And at the center of it all is Gaga’s Patrizia, who Maurizio says is a dead letter for Elizabeth Taylor. (You can kind of get his point.) She plans, she cries, she makes decisions that Maurizio is too weak to make herself. She calls a medium on TV and becomes her best friend. She strokes Paolo’s ego and stabs him in the back. Gaga takes on the role of – if not the real Patrizia – a fantastic approach that smokes like a chimney, narrows her eyes until you expect lasers to shoot out, and turns every scene she appears in into a grand, glorious showcase. Her hand gestures alone are worth reading. She is Lady Macbeth as a diva, darling and dancing queen.

So if the story never lands – why bother with the Guccis? why does Ridley Scott seem to not care at all about fashion, not even a little bit? – it really doesn’t matter, because every new scene is a new chance to watch some performers cram ham into a camp sandwich and then have another espresso.

It is fashionable for critics and the ill-informed alike to declare that: they don’t make movies like this anymore. I rarely buy it; usually, when you say it, you’re just not looking hard enough.

But in this case, okay, I’ll buy it. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Ridley Scott managing to get the budget, cast and run time to make a three-ring circus like House of Gucci for the big screen, an adult drama that doesn’t rely on IP with a built-in fanbase or effects-laden spectacle to suck the audience in. When he’s gone, hopefully in a very distant future, I worry this kind of movie will suit him.

At least for now we have House of Gucci, the kind of movie where a wife can say to her husband, “It’s time to… wasteand mean his family, a multi-scene movie in a candlelit bathtub, a movie where an entire scene is set to the sounds of “I’m a Believer” in Italian, where the imperfect is raised to perfection. I left my showing elated and immediately wanted to watch it again. Several times. Long live cinema.

House of Gucci opens in cinemas from November 24.

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