"House of Gucci" and Lady Gaga stumble on the runway
House of Gucci
Starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons and Salma Hayek. Written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna. Directed by Ridley Scott. Now playing at theatres everywhere. 158 minutes. 14A
It seemed like a fabulous idea when Lady Gaga was announced as the lead star of “House of Gucci,” Ridley Scott’s big-screen telling of a lethal fashion family feud of the 1970s to 1990s.
The meat-dress mistress has the nerve and the swerve to play Patrizia Reggiani, a one-time secretary for a trucking firm who manoeuvred her way into Italy’s Gucci aristocracy by marrying gormless heir Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), who really should have read more Machiavelli.
Alas, there’s no reason to go gaga for this saga, which plays more like a ponderous soap opera than the outrageous entertainment it might have been, especially considering the recent competition. There are better boardroom antics in TV’s “Succession” and more wicked fashion follies in “Cruella.”
Lady G dyes her hair black and dials down her exuberance to play Patrizia, who turns out to be every bit the shallow gold digger she appears to be when she meets and brazenly woos shy, naive Maurizio at a disco.
Maurizio’s patrician father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), warns his bicycle-riding son not to let her motor into the family and executive suite. For better or worse, Rodolfo truly cares about the Gucci name and the clothing and accessories it goes on.
“She’s after your money, like they all are,” Rodolfo warns, adding, that he’ll consider his son to be in exile until the lad comes to his senses and finds a woman more appropriate to the lofty status of a century-old fashion empire. Maurizio marries Patrizia anyway.
Fortunately for her, there’s another branch of the clan that’s far less snobby and even more cold-blooded: Maurizio’s shameless uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) and his clownish son Paolo (Jared Leto), who recognize a kindred conniver in her.
Aldo conspires to have Patrizia and Maurizio move to New York, where he can keep a close eye on them — insert comparisons to the “The Godfather” here — while he works to restore them to full family status. He prefers the dull Maurizio to his foppish boy Paolo, who has a fantasy of becoming a clothing designer that nobody else seems to support.
All of these schemers and dreamers are about to find out that the business side of the Gucci operation is in worse shape than they imagined, and there are other players who are perhaps more ruthless than themselves when it comes to boardroom and bedroom betrayals.
Regrets, we have more than a few regarding “House of Gucci,” beginning with the underachieving A-list cast.
The flair in front of the camera Gaga exhibited in “A Star Is Born,” her Oscar-nominated 2018 movie breakthrough, disappears beneath a dodgy Italian accent — not by far the worst one heard in the film — and the weight of portraying a real person, a really nasty one at that.
When she utters the already-much-quoted line “It’s time to take out the trash,” it’s as if she’s a homeowner planning a weekly task rather than someone plotting mayhem of the kind that will sooner or later require the services of a hit man.
Yet Gaga’s Patrizia is a regular live wire compared to Driver’s Maurizio, who has the personality of wet plywood. Driver is a supremely talented and expressive actor, one of the best of his generation, but he’s clearly uncomfortable behind the big 1980s eyeglasses and inside his character’s pampered realm.
As for Pacino’s Aldo and Leto’s Paolo, it’s as if they got an entirely different memo about what kind of movie this is. They take turns gnawing at the shrubbery, especially Leto, who bizarrely resembles Captain Kangaroo as he disappears beneath mounds of latex. At one point, an infuriated Paolo unzips his pants and urinates on a silk Gucci scarf.
Pacino does what Pacino always does: shamelessly grab every scene he’s in. One of the few pleasures watching “House of Gucci” is anticipating the moment in every Pacino film that I call “waiting for Al to explode.” He reliably delivers.
The main offenders in this unfashionable exertion are director Scott and screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, who adapted Sara Gay Forden’s 2001 book, “The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed.”
If the film actually lived up to the book’s title, it would be far more interesting. As a master mechanic more than an inspired artisan, Scott approaches it as boardroom intrigue rather than a fashion-world fandango.
The result being that we get a lot more telling than showing — there’s actually little fashion on display — as the film nears the three-hour mark, grinding along with a soundtrack that veers unsteadily between operatic flourishes and on-the-nose pop hits.
And the telling ain’t so swell. Unlike “Succession,” there are few zippy one-liners to be heard and a lot of really dull ones. This is all the more dismaying when you consider the utterances of the real-life Gucci clan.
Such as when a reporter asked the real Patrizia why she felt the need to hire a hit man to perform a certain notorious task: “My eyesight is not so good,” she reportedly replied. “I didn’t want to miss.”
Now that’s the spirit we needed more of in “House of Gucci.” 🌓
(This review originally ran in the Toronto Star.)