“I don’t consider myself a particularly ethical person, but I’m fair,” avers Lady Gaga as Patrizia Gucci, nee Reggiani, in Ridley Scott’s sudsy, starry dramatisation of the Gucci dynasty’s decline.
Out for Oscar gold after her nomination for A Star Is Born, Gaga captivates as the glamorous femme fatale at the film’s centre: the real-life Reggiani is infamous for ordering the hit on ex-husband Maurizio Gucci – the last in his family to preside over the eponymous fashion house, channelled here by Adam Driver – that would see him gunned down outside his Milan office on March 27, 1995.
Murder is an act that would be classed as quite unfair by any metric bar Reggiani’s own, apparently. (On the fateful day, she marked a one-word entry in her diary: “PARADEISOS,” it read, in all caps – Greek for “paradise”.)
But Reggiani, who still considers herself to be “the most Gucci of them all”, is hardly the only member of the well-heeled clan to have behaved as though they were above the law – a little tax fraud never hurt anyone, right? And should the carabinieri come knocking, one needs only to dash over to the St Moritz estate, where Swiss law prevents extradition for financial crimes.
Nor is Patrizia the only Gucci to have betrayed her own kind: this was a family pitted against itself throughout the 80s. As Sara Gay Forden chronicled in The House of Gucci, the non-fiction book from which the film was adapted, the company during this period was defined by covert alliances forged and ruthlessly dissolved between fathers, sons, and cousins.
In jockeying for control over this empire built on humble leather goods and loafers – now celebrating its 100th year, no longer a family business but a subsidiary of a French multinational – more than one Gucci would do time behind bars.
Forden’s book cites a choice quote from Jenny Gucci, embittered ex-wife of Maurizio’s cousin Paolo: “What you have to understand about the Guccis,” she sniped, “is that they are all completely mad, incredibly manipulative, and not very clever.”
Pass the popcorn.
Skipping over The Last Duel, the wearisome medieval #MeToo tale put out by the director in 2021, House of Gucci harkens back to 2017’s All the Money in the World – also about a woman compelled to do battle with the dysfunctional ultra-rich family she married into.
But Gucci, which squeezes nearly two decades of slightly fudged history into its 158 minutes, edges deliciously close to camp where Scott’s Getty saga was dour.
Gliding through countless palatial interiors from Milan to New York, Gaga and her co-stars – in addition to Driver, there’s Jared Leto as Paolo, Al Pacino as Maurizio’s uncle Aldo, and Jeremy Irons as his papa Rodolfo – express their feelings by hurling plates of carpaccio or pissing on silk scarves; they deal barbs in pungent, Italian-flavoured English.
Gaga brings the greatest conviction on the accent front, Driver the least – but he pretty much gets away with it – both because it matches the shyness of his character, the story’s straight man, and because he makes for such a charming Poindexter.
Playing the stupidest and most style-challenged of the bunch, Leto proudly sports a bald cap and a safari-style suit of berry-toned corduroy. If it comes as no surprise that the peacocking method actor proves the biggest ham of the bunch (move over, Pacino), then it’s a total surprise – to this writer, at least – that he dispatches his role with such comedic aplomb.
Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna’s screenplay has Leto rolling most of the best (read: silliest) lines of the film around in his mouth, infusing them with a breathy, wheedling musicality. “My bladder may be full, but my dreams are even fuller,” he pronounces, upset that his relations won’t recognise his “gift” for design.
Paolo’s vision of mixing pastels with browns makes him something of a pariah at a time when the Gucci aesthetic was all about conservative elegance. (It’s towards the end of the film that the revolution arrives in the form of Tom Ford, played here by Reeve Carney, and his iconic sexed-up 1995 collection.)
Patrizia’s dress sense sets her apart too: like a sultry Fran Drescher, she’s often the lady in red when everybody else is wearing tan (or navy, or cream). But – just as ambitious as any of the Gucci men, and more cold-blooded – she manages, for a time, to weaponise her outsider status.
Her difference from Maurizio’s stuffy social set is what initially attracts him to her: it can’t be often that the Gucci heir gets mistaken for the bartender at a party.
Of course Patrizia ultimately aspires to be accepted into the fold. As Maurizio’s new bride, she urges him to be ever more active in the company, the Lady Macbeth to his reluctant Thane, and works hard to ingratiate herself with the members of her new extended family – gathering the information she’ll use to fuel existing feuds.
It’s when Maurizio discards her that her scheming, as enabled by Salma Hayek’s batty clairvoyant Pina, ratchets up to a murderous gear.
Juggling these internecine dealings, Scott’s film, much like Paolo, isn’t always as stylish or as svelte as it thinks itself.
The pacing and the periodisation sometimes feel off; the choice of music ranges from uninspired to distracting. (George Michael’s Faith, for instance, is unsuitable for walking down the aisle, while an Italian cover of I’m a Believer by Caterina Caselli unfortunately just evokes memories of Shrek.)
With some minor alterations, House of Gucci could’ve been a showstopper. I guess it still is, in its own, wonky way – and I happen to think that Paolo Gucci looks pretty striking in that pink corduroy, no?