House of Gucci movie review: Lady Gaga wins the ensemble battle in this slick, campy family drama

House of Gucci movie review: Lady Gaga wins the ensemble battle in this slick, campy family drama

House of Gucci movie review: Lady Gaga wins the ensemble battle in this slick, campy family drama

Language: English

By October 2021, it had been nearly four years since the release of Ridley Scott’s last feature film — the longest gap between movies for him since his very first feature, the 1977 film The Duellists. The director has been averaging about a film every two years like clockwork, so little wonder that after the four-year gap, he has two releases out just weeks apart. After the historical drama The Last Duel in October, he serves us yet another period piece, House of Gucci.

Covering a time span of about two decades, the film takes you through the machinations and manoeuvring that go on behind the closed doors of the rich and famous; in this case, the Italian luxury fashion house Gucci. Today, there is not a single person named Gucci involved with the iconic company worth billions. House of Gucci attempts to give you a sense of why that is the case.

There is much to appreciate in this slightly uneven film, but Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani stands out head, shoulders, and stilettos above everyone else. From the moment she enters the film, you can feel the impact she is going to have through the story, just by the way she walks — the camera following her stride with verve and vigour as she gets out of a car and walks to her office.

Her paths cross with Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), scion of his family — or at least, a potential scion. The moment she hears his last name, her eyes light up and you instantly see what her intentions are. You can call her a social climber, a golddigger, or any of the other derogatory terms on those lines; but it would not fully describe her strategy.

Maurizio is not awed by his family’s wealth. He is a bookish fellow, a lawyer, who is not expecting someone like Patrizia to take an interest in him. She chases him down, makes it happen, and enters the family. It does not matter that Maurizio relinquishes his claim on the Gucci wealth to be with her. Family feuds can always be fixed and un-fixed.

Notably enough, until then the Gucci family seems to only have men. Maurizio’s father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), his uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), and his cousin Paolo (a yet-again-unrecognisable Jared Leto). This trio knocks it out of the park in their bits, particularly when Leto and Pacino (who play father and son) riff off each other.

It is a testimony to Lady Gaga’s chops as an actor that she is still the most memorable part of the film.

I do not know how authentic her accent is, but hers is certainly the least laboured in that entire cast.

Driver’s accent seems the least convincing, but the man still makes his presence in the film count. He is not the protagonist or anything of the sort, and there is no real reason to root for this character. But Driver makes him seem like a full person, and that always makes a difference.

The problem with the film lies pretty much in the fact that it does not pick a lane. There are plenty of scenes that make it seem like self-aware, satirical, no-holds-barred camp. Like when Patrizia is trying to make an ally out of Paolo, getting him to confide in her. But then there are other portions where proceedings seem a lot more staid, bordering on what is called 'realistic.' If the film had unabashedly been the former, who knows just how much fun it could have been.

After all, no one is a stranger to the plotting and scheming that goes on around wealth and power. Even if you do not know specifics about this family, nothing about the situations or events unfolding will seem new. The magic lies in how these things play out, who does what, and why. Going with an in-your-face style, and letting the actors loose to have a good time, happens a few times through the film, but perhaps not often enough. Sex and murder may be fun, but they do not hold a candle to a spectacularly written and performed dramatic scene with a tinge of comic relief. There are too few of those in this film. The ones that are there almost always hit the mark.

Full credit where it is due — even when the film dips, it does not really sag. One of the challenges movies face with the rise of streaming is that TV shows have the luxury of time to build a character and cover entire lives in depth. So when a movie attempts to pack in decades into a couple of hours, they will find it increasingly difficult to do it convincingly. Editor Claire Simpson plots the graph of the film with respectable skill, as the years pass by without any direct reference to when it does. You just feel it happening gradually, as the little things about the characters’ lives reveal.

Clocking in at 157 minutes, House of Gucci hence feels surprisingly shorter than that. It helps that the film looks slick, and has a peppy, upbeat background score to accompany the onscreen histrionics. It is hard to tell right away just where this film will rank in Scott’s illustrious filmography, but one thing is for sure — he’s still making movies that, chinks and flaws notwithstanding, are worth a trip to the movie theatre.

House of Gucci is playing in cinemas.

Rating: ***

Pradeep Menon is a Mumbai-based writer and independent filmmaker.  

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