Adam Driver, Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, Jared Leto, Jack Huston – it’s quite a cast – they too play Italians and speak English with Italian accents on the stage. It’s true that Hollywood realism has its limits, especially in the crowd-pleasing and chic and popping ‘House of Gucci’ genre. But come on, the characters are all Italian. We know this. They are in Milan. Most of them are called, yes, Gucci. Do they really need to sound like Chico marx?
“House of Gucci” is the fact-based story of the crumbling family that owns the fashion business, a tangle that resulted in a shocking crime. Or, as Gaga adds in this voiceover, “The last name was a curse too.”
Gaga plays a young woman, Patrizia, who sets her sights on a Gucci heir, Maurizio (Driver). In one of the film’s most charming moments, she writes her phone number in lipstick on the windshield of her Vespa. Soon Patrizia finds herself in the middle of a fight between Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), and his uncle, Aldo (Pacino). Another complication is Aldo’s eccentric son Paolo (Leto). “Gucci is a family business,” says one potential buyer; “It means family problems”. He is right.
“House of Gucci” has it all: domestic drama, scandal, crime, couture. Tom Ford, Anna Wintour and Richard Avedon appear as supporting characters. Clothes, cars, suits, even paintings (a Klimt hangs in Rodolfo’s foyer – the hearth, notice). There’s an extravagant, muscular sex scene – yes, Gaga is part of it. Ridley Scott, the most reliable of former pros, has realized. In other words, “House of Gucci” is not to be missed. Except that it is.
Part of the problem is that the film tries to have it both ways, with its take on Gucci and their world alternating between adoration and contempt. The latter seems more deserved. The audience might not be as stylish as these people – well, even I am more stylish than Paolo – but we can see through them even though they can’t see through others.
Trying to have it both ways is a problem. Not having things anyway is a real Problem: “House of Gucci” is too cartoonish for drama, but seldom cartoonish enough for camp. The film is like an opera without music, and an opera without music is like a stand-up routine without punchlines.
In fact, it might make more sense to think of “House of Gucci” not as a movie but as a serving dish. There are several slices of prosciutto on it. Some are fine and tasty. Others are thick and inedible. One slice manages to be thick and tasty at the same time.
The pilot is very well sunk. Maurizio is the reluctant Gucci. He wants to be a lawyer and wears his oversized glasses as a badge of honor. Whatever role he plays, there’s something slightly odd about Driver. It’s partly that angular physique, partly an innate reluctance.
Huston’s family lawyer is the closest thing to a still point in this changing world. As Maurizio’s former and future girlfriend, Claire Cottin (“Call My Agent”, “Stillwater”) contrasts nicely with Gaga.
On the surface, Rodolfo d’Irons is a cadaver-looking cliché: hair back, casual scarf, mustache as thin as a pencil. “For me, art, like beauty, is priceless,” he says. The talent either. Irons prosciutto isn’t just thinly sliced. It is accompanied by Prosecco, extra dry.
Pacino’s Aldo makes his over-the-top Jimmy Hoffa, in “The Irishman” (2019), seem underrated. Pacino won a long-awaited Oscar for “Scent of a Woman” (1992), in which he kept muttering “Hoo-ah!” Here, his performance is a case of “Hoo-boy!”
In all fairness to Pacino, Leto gives the film’s most egregious performance. Every time it’s on screen, “House of Gucci” goes from fake opera to failed sitcom. His Paolo does Fredo Corleone looks like Clint Eastwood. As a fortune teller who has Patrizia as a client, Salma Hayek doesn’t exactly make it up, but it fits her character as an infomercial host.
It is Gaga who is both too much and fair. Patrizia is a flirt, a temptress, a schemer, a force of nature. “I don’t see myself as a particularly ethical person, but I am fair.” Patrizia said. It’s a totally self-interested remark, but Gaga lets us see that it’s not unwarranted.
“House of Gucci” is mostly set in the ’70s and’ 80s, but there’s something very ’50s about Gaga here. It is a throwback: glamor, expressiveness, carefreeness. She’s the rare contemporary actress who can pull off one bubble bath scene – not to mention two, as Gaga does. When they first meet, Maurizio compares Patrizia to Elizabeth Taylor. In fact, she looks more like Ava Gardner, but quite close. As she gets older, she begins to look – and act – a lot like Joan Collins. “House of Gucci” has more than a whiff of “Dynasty.”
Forget about Taylor, Gardner and Collins, however. Ultimately, Gaga is onscreen herself, just like any real movie star should be. She got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress three years ago, for “A Star Is Born”. This title was right. A star was born, a true name-in-lights movie star. “House of Gucci” confirms this status. “I am a very sociable person, who loves people,” Patrizia tells Rodolfo. She could describe the actress who plays her.
Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna; based on Sara Gay Forden’s book, “La Maison Gucci”. With Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Selma Hayek, Al Pacino, Camille Cottin. In Boston theaters, in the suburbs. 158 min. R (language, sexual content, brief nudity, violence)
Mark Feeney can be reached at [email protected]