After spending a decade dominating the music industry and raking in Grammy after Grammy, Lady Gaga set her sights on Hollywood and rocked the film world with her performance in Bradley Cooper’s adaptation A Star is Born, a debut for which she nabbed a best actress nomination at the Academy Awards and winning one for original song. Now, three years later, Gaga returns to the silver screen once again in the star-studded House of Gucci, cementing her spot in among the rare crop of successful singers-turned actresses. Though the entire cast thoroughly understands their respective roles, it’s Lady Gaga’s sprawling performance as Patrizia that makes House of Gucci worth the watch.
Directed by Ridley Scott, House of Gucci tells the outlandish true story of Patrizia Reggiani (Gaga), a young Italian woman from humble beginnings who quickly catches the eye of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the sole heir to his father Rodolfo’s (Jeremy Irons) Gucci family fortune. Though initially Patrizia and Rodolfo clash and Maurizio leaves the family (and his inheritance) to marry for love, Patrizia slowly but surely plots to find a way to ensure she and Maurizio get their cut of the Gucci fortune. As the duo ascend the ranks of the Gucci hierarchy, stepping on relatives Paolo (Jared Leto) and Aldo (Al Pacino) to do so, their relationship begins to strain, ultimately resulting in Patrizia hiring a hitman to kill her once-beloved husband.
With a revered director, a double take-worthy cast, and a story nearly too bombastic to be true, House of Gucci (much like the titular fashion house itself) is a movie that enjoys revelling in excess: sitting at a runtime of over two and a half hours, the film’s contentment to move at its own pace is ultimately one of the elements preventing it from being the force of nature it likely could’ve been. The narrative is so grandiose and dramatic (as close to a Shakesperian epic as a thoroughly Italian story can get) that the runtime should seem fitting, but House of Gucci jumps between multiple storylines and character beats, not quite economizing its time properly.
Though the film begins as entirely Patrizia’s story, focusing on her personal journey and romance with Maurizio, Aldo and Paolo quickly soak up much of the runtime once they’re introduced, and by the finale, Patrizia is almost a tertiary player in her own story, despite the fact that the last act is arguably where we should be seeing the most of her – after all, she’s the one who hired the hit. House of Gucci’s struggle to find an emotional and narrative center makes for a watered-down viewing experience, leading one to wonder if the story might have faired better as a limited series a-la The Assasination of Gianni Versace.
Still, the pacing issues hardly cripple the film as a whole, and though it loses focus just before the finish line, the rest of House of Gucci boasts a wickedly sharp script with a singular sense of humor that makes for an engaging viewing experience from start to finish. Though not quite reaching Crazy Rich Asians levels of opulence, the combination of old money Italian excess and the 1980s penchant for overindulgence results in the film’s singular visual aesthetic – abundant with 80s designer fashion constantly clashing with more traditional Italian tendencies. Jared Leto’s Paolo epitomizes the clashing sense of aesthetics – at one point sporting a gaudy neon windbreaker as he sits in a meeting to discuss the future of the Gucci brand. The set decoration is a near perfect reflection of the script’s tone, and does wonders to create a cohesive world for House of Gucci’s Italian elites to inhabit.
At the center of that world is, of course, Lady Gaga as Patrizia – a performance which, in a sea of Oscar-winning actors, stands out as far and away the film’s most committed and affecting. As Patrizia, Gaga shows remarkable range: first approaching the character with an appropriately wide-eyed and almost demure attitude as the young woman first meets her future husband, which makes for a startling contrast when she eventually becomes a shrewd, paranoid, scorned woman so desperate she’s willing to put out a hit on the former love of her life. Though the film often struggles to decide what to do with the character of Patrizia, Gaga’s performance never wavers – economizing every moment she’s onscreen and always making surprising, exciting choices that make her impossible to look away from.
Opposite her outspoken Patrizia is Adam Driver as the more bookish, reserved Maurizio Gucci, who similarly transforms from an innocent young man uninterested in his family’s ongoings into a shrewd businessman who successfully reinvents the Gucci brand, but at the cost of his own life – in more than one sense of the word. Maurizio’s more introverted tendencies are perfectly suited to the nuances of a performer like Driver, and though Gaga as Patrizia often steals focus, he makes for the perfect foil for her to play off of, especially as their relationship begins to strain.
As for the rest of the Gucci family, Pacino and Leto make for an odd-couple sort of double act, often bringing the film’s more comedic beats while simultaneously playing tragic figures as early victims of Patrizia’s scheming. Particularly pitiful is Jared Leto as the bumbling Paolo, a misguided but ultimately harmless son striving for his father Aldo’s (Pacino) approval and attention. Though their narrative is certainly affecting, the amount of screentime they receive dilutes the until-then airtight Patrizia/Maurizio narrative, and one wonders if, had Aldo and Paolo been reduced to more comedic side characters, the film’s final act would’ve landed better.
Though the film loses crucial steam in the final act, the combination of an all-star cast, witty script, and another standout performance from Lady Gaga make House of Gucci a rollicking epic of love, lust, and white collar crime. Still, even if the lengthy runtime struggles to decide which characters should pull focus, the grandiose world Scott creates with House of Gucci is an instantly-mesmerizing tale that takes a cast of eclectic characters and pushes them to their breaking point: a cautionary tale of the seductive influence of fortune and fame.
MGM/United Artists will release House of Gucci only in theaters on November 24.
Photo: Fabio Lovino