By Jim Gilles
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/28/21 – Opening Thanksgiving Weekend in selected theatres is Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci (2021), a gripping tale of greed that borders on farce. “The most Gucci of them all” is how Patrizia Reggiani described herself in a 2014 interview and, judging by this entertainingly ripe, comedically tinged tragedy, she has a point. Variously known as “Lady Gucci” and “Black Widow,” Reggiani became the center of a very 1990s scandal involving lust, money, fashion, murder – and even a clairvoyant. To that tabloid-friendly cocktail, Ridley Scott’s latest “true story” potboiler adds a dash of pop superstardom, with Lady Gaga (Oscar-nominated for her close-to-home performance in A Star Is Born) relishing the chance to find the human cracks beneath a larger-than-life, femme fatale surface.
Adapted by screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna from the nonfiction book by Sara Gay Forden, House of Gucci charts a crowd-pleasing course from the Milanese party scene of the 1970s to a high-profile, end-of-the-century trial. At its heart is the doomed romance between Patrizia and Maurizio Gucci, the latter played behind stylishly studious glasses by cinema’s sexy nerd de nos jours, Adam Driver. “I want to see how this story goes,” says Patrizia, embarking upon a twisted fairytale romance with the grandson of Guccio Gucci that starts with masked balls and talk of midnight chimes and pumpkins and ends with family back-stabbings, jealous rages, and deadly rivalries.
In the beginning, all is an operatic passion as Patrizia scrawls her number in lipstick on the windscreen of Maurizio’s scooter. It’s a striking image: him, a dork on two wheels; her, a high-wire circus act, unicycling her way across the big top of dynastic wealth. She may not know a Klimt from a Picasso, but Patrizia has go-getting oomph to spare, like a classier relative of Nomi from Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls. That’s certainly how Jeremy Irons’s increasingly vampiric Rodolfo sees her when he disowns his son for marrying into a family of “truck drivers!” Sly Uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) is more enamored, falling for Patrizia’s brassy charms, allowing her and his nephew to get their hooks into the fashion house he co-owns with his brother. One minute, Patrizia is a trucking magnate’s daughter, the next she’s Lady Macbeth, preparing to “take out the trash.”
Equally swift is the transition from happy marriage to hellish separation, with spicy innuendo (“I’m sure Maurizio would love your strudel”) signaling a super-fast shift of devotions from Patrizia to Paola (Call My Agent’s Camille Cottin). Behind it all lurks the shadow of The Godfather, providing an archetypal template for everything from a rural outdoor feast over which Pacino presides to the intercutting of dark deeds and baptisms, albeit in bathwater (numerous times with Lady Gaga) rather than holy water. The camera seems dominated by the faces of the larger-than-life actors in the film.
Jared Leto plays Aldo’s idiot son Paolo, who appears to be starring in his own private awards audition tape. Leto dons a prosthetic symphony of silly suits and protruding guts. His voice with its over-the-top Italian inflections and semi-operatic singing truly distracts from the seriousness of the film, pushing the tale into pure camp. The other actors adopt faintly ridiculous Italian inflections. Al Pacino as Aldo Gucci comes close to matching Leto’s parodic screen presence. Together they make the film’s two-and-a-half hours unnecessarily long. The music embedded in the film is a cheesy jukebox of opera and 70s and 80s pop hits. It is difficult to discern the real tone of the film which feels so much like a glossy soap opera, although the real-life events in the relationship between Patrizia Reggiani and Maurizio Gucci did end in 1995 assassination of Maurizio orchestrated by Reggiani. The House of Gucci implodes like a house of cards – first with Maurizio Gucci seeking help from a Qatar-based financer to buy out the shares of Aldo Gucci and his son Paolo. Eventually, Maurizio’s mismanagement of the Gucci empire faced financial ruin, even though Maurizio managed in the early 1990s to bring onboard a young Texas-based designer Tom Ford.
The former Gucci creative director, who also wrote and directed the movies A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals, has found Ridley Scott’s dramatization of the intrigue and machinations that once surrounded the fashion dynasty rather farcical. Ford knew and worked with Maurizio Gucci, the slain former head of the fashion house played by Adam Driver in the film. Ford even appears in the film as a minor character, played by Reeve Carney. Ford complains: “I also knew many of the other players in this saga and was interviewed on multiple occasions for the book that was the source material for the film, so it is hard for me to divorce reality from the glossy, heavily lacquered soap opera that I witnessed on screen.”
Jeremy Irons who portrays Maurizio’s father Rodolfo Gucci is well-cast as the aristocratic figure of the House of Gucci. It is interesting that Salma Hayek, who plays Giuseppina “Pina” Auriemma, the psychic and friend of Lady Gaga’s Patrizia Reggiani. Perhaps there is some irony in the fact that Hayek’s husband François-Henri Pinault is the current owner of Gucci. Credit must be given to the fine performances by Lady Gaga and Adam Driver in House of Gucci.