I’ve been hooked on the thought of seeing Ridley Scott’s newest production “House of Gucci” ever since the trailer was released earlier this year.
So once the Thanksgiving dishes were washed and put away (and I’d recovered from a turkey-induced coma), I strapped on the vintage Gucci saddlebag my grandmother gifted me, grabbed my unwilling yet long-suffering husband, and off we went.
I’ll be honest – I built up this film a lot in my mind before seeing it, only because I had a pretty good grasp of the source material beforehand, and I’ve admired Scott as a director and Lady Gaga as a performer for years. But much like getting your hands on a coveted designer item and finding the tell-tale signs of a cheap reproduction upon further examination, I had a similar sentiment when I came away from the theater.
Let’s Start with the Good
Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot to love about this movie. The scenery, costumes, and screenwriting for the most part are all Ridley Scott par excellence, and definitely a departure from his most recent production The Last Duel.
Adam Driver as Maurizo Gucci and Lady Gaga as his modern-day Lady Macbeth are, in a word, superb. I wouldn’t describe what they have onscreen as romantic chemistry – it’s more of a slow burning hatred (which eventually resulted in his murder) rather than passionate, unconditional love. From the very beginning, we can easily see that Patrizia Reggiani, a working-class girl from humble Milanese beginnings, is more interested in getting her hands on Maurizio’s surname rather than being his soulmate.
I’ll admit, I was nervous about the prospect of a project like this and what it means for Gaga. Tons of performers try to cross over with little to no success and end up embarrassing themselves, but I should have never doubted our girl’s acting chops. She steals the show in every scene she’s in, playing Patrizia with a ferocity that demands your fear and a vulnerability that demands your sympathy.
Driver and Gaga’s stellar performances are bolstered by a number of other big names – Jeremy Irons (who had the least screen time but the most interesting character, according to my husband), Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, Jack Huston. Reeve Carney delivers an intriguing Tom Ford, the no-name Texas designer who brings Gucci out of the dark ages and into global recognition once again, and as a real-life Ford fangirl, I felt like a proud mom seeing him get his moment in cinematic history. (Not to mention that Ford himself as a director is exceptionally gifted – get your hands on his 2009 masterpiece A Single Man if you want to see what I’m talking about.)
As for the good, that’s about all there is.
Then There’s Jared Leto
In the spirit of transparency, I don’t know much about Leto as an actor, nor can I recall any films he shines in that I’ve seen in recent years. I do know that he started a cult, but that’s another story for another time. To put it simply, Leto takes the hard work of Scott as a director and a visionary and the efforts of all the other performers and throws them out the window. His extreme overacting (and what I’m guessing was his attempts to be the film’s comic relief?) made me physically cringe every time he was in a scene, and even diminished the capabilities of his onscreen father, Al Pacino.
Paolo Gucci, Leto’s character and the black sheep of the family, has an important arc in the story. Besides Patrizia, he’s really the only figure to recognize that the brand as a whole needs a serious dusting off and a new reintroduction into the 20th century. But Leto’s hamfisted Italian accent and his weird mannerisms play more like a House of Gucci Saturday Night Live sketch than they do Scott’s rendition of a failing, hubristic dynasty.
I could definitely feel that there were certain moments in the theater where the audience was expected to laugh – but instead, we sat there in awkward silence and prayed that they’d move on to something else. That’s the thing about Leto’s performance. You don’t necessarily need comic relief in a gritty, edgy drama about a family at war with one another, with love, fame, fortune, and revenge all at stake. I feel that this was one of Scott’s mistakes with regards to how he approached telling the story, and it wasn’t an inconsequential one – it throws the entire film off-kilter.
So far, the real critics agree too. Though there’s praise for Adam Driver and even Oscar buzz generating already for our leading lady, for the most part, what audiences disliked the most about the film was Leto (for reference, think Nicolas Cage in Con Air times infinity).
Patrizia Reggiani’s One True Love
At the heart of this film is kind of a heartbreaking realization (and an outcome that’ll stir the ire of any card-carrying modern feminist).
Yes, Patrizia’s duplicitousness, as well as her constant social climbing and need for adoration and recognition are ultimately her downfall. As with any epic, stranger-than-fiction story, she gets her just desserts. But in reality, whether this was the case in real life or just in Ridley Scott’s imagination, Patrizia really was the woman standing behind the powerful man. When she meets and marries Maurizio, he’s a dorky law student with a weird haircut and eccentricities. By the end of the film, Maurizio’s living it up in an urban penthouse with his mistress, surrounded by Lamborghinis and priceless antiques.
While Maurizio would have been content to spend their married life practicing law and keeping an arm's distance away from his powerful family and their business, it was Patrizia who saw the potential of what Gucci as a family and as a brand could be. In the end, Patrizia winds up a single mom (and, to be fair, in prison for orchestrating her husband’s murder) while her ex reaps the benefits.
There’s an interesting scene towards the middle of the film, where Patrizia visits her fortune teller (and later her co-conspirator) Pina. Pina lays out the tarot cards on the table, and tells Patrizia something to the effect of, “You will have a great love in your life.” At the time, we’re already starting to unravel the possibility that her one true love is her husband, Maurizio. Because, really, Patrizia’s one true love is Gucci, and the money and fame it promised her. By the end of the film, Patrizia’s obsession has resulted in her devastation. But what a way to go.
If you can stand two and a half hours of runtime (most of which Jared Leto ruins), I’d recommend seeing House of Gucci, though I probably wouldn’t pay to see it again. Gaga and Driver’s performances are worth the watch, as are the beautiful vintage Gucci pieces present throughout the film.
Though the film concludes with Maurizio’s murder and Patrizia’s imprisonment, it somehow manages to end on a high note, taking Gucci from the stodgy, family-owned business it was known as into a new era, where the brand – with Tom Ford at the helm – once again made a name for itself alongside the biggest designers of the new century.
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