Ridley Scott’s superbly performed House of Gucci gives every one of its A-list actors a showcase scene or two. Here is Adam Driver as Maurizio Gucci blissfully playing football with truckers, a far cry from the gilded life he has led thus far. Here is Al Pacino as Maurizio’s uncle Aldo Gucci, beside himself with loathing and rage as he meets investors to negotiate a future the fashion label he built with his brother Rodolfo.
Jared Leto, as Aldo’s son Paolo, comically plays up the Hollywood stereotype of the flamboyant Italian scion but personifies poignancy in the moment he confronts his cousin over a business dispute. Jeremy Irons, as Rodolfo, is in the movie long enough to savagely put Aldo in his place.
Unlike the others, Lady Gaga, as Patrizia Reggiani, doesn’t have a showstopper scene. Rather, Gaga owns every moment she is on the screen. Gaga’s full-bodied portrayal of Maurizio’s wife, who was convicted of ordering his murder, towers over House of Gucci. She is the movie’s most uncontrollable, irresistible element.
Gaga often packs a spectrum of emotions into a single sequence. Tremulous in love, ruthless in ambition and anguished in rejection, Patrizia erases herself for Maurizio and his company as surely as Gaga gives herself up to her director.
Based on Sara Gay Forden’s book of the same name, House of Gucci traces the back story of Maurizio’s death in 1995. Behind this classic crime passionnel lies an amour fou that begins when Maurizio introduces himself to Patrizia at a party and her eyes light up at the mention of his name.
Despite what Maurizio’s father Rodolfo thinks, Patrizia is no gold-digger. The screenplay, by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, suggests that Patrizia is the most Gucci of the Guccis, keen on protecting the brand’s storied legacy by pushing her diffident husband towards taking control of the company. After she is rudely sidelined, Patrizia teams up with Pina (Salma Hayek), her resident clairvoyant and confidante, for revenge.
Maurizio seeks refuge in an old friend, Paola (Camille Cottin). Cottin isn’t in the movie for long, but has her own big moment when she first sets eyes on Patrizia.
Alongside the gaudiness and glitz, the coveted bags with the double G logo, the Italian villas and Manhattan penthouses, is a grim story of thwarted ambition and love flecked with madness. This is bling squeezed cold and served with verve even when half-cooked. (Dariusz Wolski is the cinematographer.)
The lashings of high melodrama and low camp strip the Guccis of their hauteur and present them as any other dysfunctional business family. Some of the Guccis and their associates are pathetic in their self-absorption and ripe for satire, but they are also unmistakably human rather than names in a tabloid story. Judiciously placed pop standards from the 1980s and 1990s further the feeling of watching a beautifully filmed runway soap opera.
The 157-minute film moves away from Patrizia when it begins to follow the label’s decline more closely. The crucial bridge that should have connected the devoted wife to the vengeful plotter is half-built, making Patrizia’s later actions unfathomable and unearned.
Whatever the occasion, Gaga’s pump-encased feet never make a misstep. Of all the distracting faux Italian English accents on display, only hers feels right, even though she sometimes resembles an overwrought heroine from a classic Italian comedy.
House of Gucci often squanders its promise of delivering a definitive account of Maurizio Gucci’s demise. But whenever Lady Gaga is in the house, the movie feels alive and just about right.
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