Instruction: Ridley Scott. Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Al Pacino. 15, 157 minutes.
House of Gucci is a tantalizing, ridiculous and utterly captivating soap opera. It is also the only suitable film made about a fashion brand built primarily for wealthy maximalists. Clearly sticky, but Gucci in itself is proof that tackiness can be art, and splendor can be smart. Just a few weeks ago, the Macaulay Culkin brand’s spring / summer 2022 show went into a contiguous print that seemed to be a direct tribute Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Ridley Scott’s film, in turn, forms consciously around its star, Lady Gaga – a woman who is clever and self-conscious enough to have once attached slices of raw meat to her body and sold it as a haute couture moment.
She plays Patrizia Reggiani, the real daughter of a truck tycoon who married into the Gucci clan after meeting one of its heirs: the sober Maurizio (Adam Driver). Scott’s film is quick to bury its claws in the family’s strife. Maurizio’s father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) rejects Patrizia as a social climber who clashes with Rodolfo’s brother Aldo (Al Pacino), as well as Aldo’s son, a “mediocre triumph” named Paolo (Jared Leto, whose much talked about “transformation” gets him to look like an Italian Dr. Phil). Somewhere along the way, Maurizio’s relationship with Patrizia disintegrates. They divorce, she is humiliated. And in 1995, Maurizio dies at the hands of a hitman hired by Patrizia with Gucci money.
Gaga plays the film’s early scenes with a flashing, playful innocence, and deliberately mirrors Patrizia’s story with Ally, her character in 2018’s A star is born – yet another ordinary woman picked from relative obscurity. Driver, in a demanding contrast to his co-star, has not looked so cracked for a while, despite all the finesse. But when the two have sex in a dirty bungalow office, they immediately sit back in movie star mode and deliver an Oscar-worthy duologue of shock and grunt. What makes Gaga feel so unsurpassed in her bravura on screen – and Patrizia’s imagined humility disappears the moment she touches a fur coat – has nothing to do with the narrative presented in her latest press release for the film. It’s not the nine months she spent in character, or whether her painstakingly examined accent sounds accurate (it does not). It is her ability to empower even the smallest acting choices with opera symbolism.
There is a defiance with which Patrizia opens her chin when she is threatened. When she rests her foot on the dashboard of a car, it becomes a provocative act of seduction. And when she knocks on her espresso cup with her spoon, one can feel the threat of it like a slap in the face. These unique images are all sharply highlighted by Janty Yates’ costume design. Patrizia starts the film by slamming her eyelids into trench coats, polka dot dresses and scarves. But over time, her hair begins to inflate in angry, jelly-shaped spikes, leaving the film to look like Sonic the Hedgehog – the pair of them are already alike in their fixation on gold rings.
In contrast to Scott’s previous directorial efforts, The last duel Which was published only a month ago – House of Gucci feels less directly preoccupied with achieving contemporary relevance. It’s a more straightforward story about beautiful things ruined by ugly lusts. There is a knowing quality to the way Gucci’s flagship store in Rome is described as the “Vatican of fashion”, as if its gilded exterior could hide all possible sins inside. What screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, working on Sara Gay Forden’s 2000 book on the scandal, offer is an unexpected nostalgia for a period of late-stage capitalism in which family empires still held power over boardrooms and conglomerates. The idea is that at the top of the ladder at least someone was left with a drop of pride and dignity. You can imagine Scott would have much the same to say about Hollywood.
House of Gucci it actually goes back to the star-studded vehicles of an era before the franchise, which is why the cast feels so entitled to their indulgences: Iron, at ease, engulfed in a pashmina; Salma Hayek, as Patrizia’s closest friend, is planning a murder while in a mud bath. Leto, obviously in the sky, as he drags around in his fat suit and a bald cap so tight that you can see it pulling at his skin. He sees himself as the real star of the show. He enjoys the rolled “r”‘s from his dedicated Mario voice and delivers lines like “I can finally soar, like a dove”, and “Never confuse s *** with chocolate”. Is it sticky what he does? Yes. Is that exactly what House of Gucci needed? Absolutely.