House of Gucci
This supremely soapy recounting of the Gucci family's 70s, 80s and 90s-era dramas is worth seeing for Lady Gaga's fantastic performance alone.
December 30, 2021
For the second time in as many movies, Lady Gaga is caught in a bad romance in House of Gucci. Yes, she's already sung the song to match. The pop diva doesn't belt out ballads or croon upbeat tunes in this true-crime drama, unlike in her Oscar-nominated role in A Star Is Born, but she does shimmy into a tale about love and revenge, horror and design, and wanting someone's everything as long as it's free. Eschewing the earthy naturalism of her last film performance and tapping into her famed on-stage theatricality instead, she's perfect for the part of Patrizia Reggiani, aka Lady Gucci, aka the daughter of a trucking entrepreneur who wed into one of the world's most prestigious fashion families, helped unstitch its hold on its couture empire, then went to prison for murder. She's exceptional because she goes big and lavish, and because she knows that's the type of feature she's meant to be in: a soapy spectacle about money and power that uses its depiction of excess as an interrogation technique.
Complimenting Gaga for nailing the brief — for acing it so dazzlingly that she's sauntering down her own catwalk as most of her co-stars virtually watch from the floor — gives House of Gucci a tad too much credit, though. Ridley Scott's second film in mere months following The Last Duel, and his third in a row to examine wealth and influence after 2017's All the Money in the World, this fashion-world saga skews large, lush and luxe with each choice, too, but doesn't land every sashay with quite the outsized lustre of its crown jewel. If House of Gucci's veteran director was picking an outfit instead, he would've chosen a killer gown, then wavered on the accessories. Some of his other decisions gleam, as seen in the movie's knowingly maximalist and melodramatic air. Others prove fine, like its jukebox-style soundtrack of 70s and 80s bangers. A few moves are so cartoonish — Jared Leto's ridiculousness, and the Super Mario-style accents sported by almost everyone on-screen — that they play like cheap knockoffs.
The story itself is a standout, however, as adapted from Sara Gay Forden's 2001 book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed. When Patrizia meets law student Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver, Annette) at a 70s-era party, mistakes him for a bartender, then realises who he is, it sparks a rollercoaster of a relationship — starting with Maurizio being disinherited by his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons, Love, Weddings and Other Disasters) for their marriage. Still, the newest Gucci knows what she wants: a place in the family's dynasty. She isn't the lone cause of the Guccis' unfolding, thanks to Rodolfo's brother Aldo (Al Pacino, Hunters), his penchant for watering down the brand and tax evasion, and his wannabe-designer son Paolo (Leto, The Little Things), but she's the Lady Macbeth pushing Maurizio to seize the company by any means.
And, because the reason that House of Gucci even exists was written in news headlines over a quarter-century ago, she's behind Maurizio's killing in 1995. "I don't consider myself a particularly ethical person, but I'm fair," Patrizia offers partway into the movie, a moral code that still sees her order his hit after their divorce — helped by a TV psychic-turned-pal (Salma Hayek, Eternals), because that's the kind of tale this is. Interviewed in 2016, Patrizia called herself "the most Gucci of them all", an idea that Scott and his screenwriters Becky Johnston (Arthur Newman) and Roberto Bentivegna (short El otro lado) don't ever give Italian-lilted voice to, but still use as their basic pattern. In the sartorial realm, Gucci might stand for high-end indulgence, but House of Gucci sees both the allure and the cost of the brand reflected in Patrizia's status-hungry actions.
Lust — for power, popularity, money, standing and sex all included — might be the soapiest vice of them all. Blunt, pulsating and pumping through the hot-blooded Patrizia's veins, it's House of Gucci's signature emotion, although the other deadly sins also get a whirl. No exaggerated account of life, love and the one percent's lavishness lacks in greed, pride, wrath, envy, gluttony and sloth as well, including this one, but there's nothing like unfettered desire to keep a narrative bubbling. Scott's film is positively ravenous for more, as its protagonist is at every turn. Nothing is too much for Patrizia in her quest to inhabit a life she once only fantasised about, and there's little that House of Gucci won't do to convey and embody that appetite. But all that glitters isn't always gold, or diamond-sharp, or even entertainingly gaudy, including for the picture itself.
With Scott's regular cinematographer Dariusz Wolski on lensing duties, House of Gucci looks like a glitzy dream that slowly loses its glamour, and by design. Its largely Milan-set staging and obviously Gucci-heavy costuming expresses the same feeling — whether or not Paolo is urinating on silk scarves and Aldo is peddling fakes. But those pasta-sauce ad accents just play cheap and easy from the outset, and everything about Leto's prosthetic-laden, safari suit-wearing, hammed-up performance does the same. Both quickly overstay their welcomes, not that either is ever welcomed at all. Calling them knowing gags, purposefully camp flourishes or pointed parodies would be far too generous, even given the feature's gleeful soap-opera tone, overt eat-the-rich sentiments and clear awareness that it's a piece of true-crime pageantry.
Thank the pop-culture gods for Gaga, then, as legions of her Little Monsters have for more than a decade. Another movie from the past year, the unshakeably misguided Joe Bell, had a character liberally sing her praises — but, surpassing even A Star Is Born, House of Gucci is her silver-screen powerhouse. Donning wiggle dresses, voluminous hair and a slinkily savage attitude, she's both lively and alive to everything happening in Patrizia's story and Scott's film alike. Whether posed opposite Driver's restrained turn as Maurizio or Pacino's also-big effort as Aldo, her presence improves her co-stars' work in every scene they share, too. Hers is an investment performance, with Scott entrusting almost everything that hits the mark in House of Gucci to his leading lady's go-for-it glow — and treating audiences to a bona fide movie-star show that Gaga couldn't wear better if it was sewn on.