Ridley Scott has been a busy veteran filmmaker this year. His historical drama The Last Duel came and vanished without much fanfare (something which he cringely blamed “millennians” (sic) and the fact they “do not ever want to be taught anything unless (they)’re told it on a cellphone” on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast) and now he’s closing 2021 with his contemporary biopic / fashion soap opera House of Gucci.
Based on the Sarah Gay Forden book ‘The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed’, House of Gucci follows Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), her marriage to the heir of the Gucci fashion house, Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), and how she orchestrated his assassination in 1995. Oh, and how pissing on scarves is the ultimate act of rebellion.
It’s a messy and overlong pantomime romp which comfortably overtakes Scott’s All The Money In The World, the director’s other foray into the overlapping worlds of criminality and glamorous lifestyles. That said, House of Gucci still has plenty of issues: the accents are an unholy mess that frequently sound like an amalgamation of Italian, Russian and Latvian, and every performer in this big screen version of Arrested Development seems to be in a constant competition for who can out-chew the scenery. And I loved every melodramatic minute.
Scott indulges every whim here, seemingly unable to leave any celluloid on the cutting room floor, and the overstuffed end result never bores once. The film does suffer on a tonal level, as it is unable to completely mesh its self-aware camp credentials with its more serious crime drama perspective. This flip-flopping makes Scott’s intentions a little foggy and it’s often hard to know how seriously we should be taking this. However, the soundtrack (ranging from perfectly-timed needle drops of George Michael, David Bowie and Luciano Pavarotti), the costumes, and the ludicrously oversized performances more than make up for the tonal whiplash.
Gaga is a force of nature as Patrizia Reggiani / Gucci, the charming and Machiavellian woman whose thirst for power and jealousy lead her to murder. Her Italian accent is all over the map but it doesn’t matter: she commands the screen and shows that her turn in A Star Is Born was no fluke. Aside from all the vapid, headline-grabbing talks of “Method acting” that has seen Gaga stating in interviews that she spoke in Reggiani’s accent for a year and a half and never broke character during the shoot, her diva Lady Macbeth act (in particular her hand gestures) means that next year’s Best Actress Oscar will doubtlessly be a two-person race, as the Academy will lap this up just as much as Kristen Stewart’s turn as Diana in the upcoming Spencer.
Likewise, rarely to you see an entire cast almost consensually agree to chew the furniture harder than their onscreen peers and overact their way into awards season. Of particular note is Al Pacino, who is House of Gucci’s MVP, managing to balance OTT posturing with tragic leanings. If there’s a Supporting Actor nomination going, he’s my top pick. Fighting him for the spot will be the film’s bum note, Jared Leto. He has once more transformed his appearance with some impressive makeup effects, but his performance mirrors the film’s undisciplined tone: he’s a cartoonish presence whose eyebrow-raising vocal deliveries and pronunciation of ‘Gooootcheeee’ owe a great dept to Super Mario. As for his larger-than-life mannerisms, they are about as subtle as those of a panto dame’s, and any Italian national is bound to have a justified field day with his portrayal of the Gucci family’s talentless wagon. It’s fun to watch him ham it up, but he seems to be acting in a completely different film to the others and undermines his real-life character’s more tragic trajectory.
As wildly unsubtle and uneven as House of Gucci is as a satire about poisonous corporate capitalism and opulent family dynasties, it remains an absurdly entertaining ode to overacting that has gifted us with bonkers lines like “I will finally soar…like a pigeon” and “Never confuse sheeeet with chocolato – they may look the same but they taste very different”, which will live in my brain rent-free. And in retrospect, Ridley Scott’s second cinematic helping of 2021 is much more chocolato than merda.
House of Gucci / D: Ridley Scott (US, 2021), with Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jared Leto. Starts December 02.