Maybe you’ve heard that “House of Gucci” is an overlong jumble of overwrought acting and over-the-top Italian accents. Relax. Buy a ticket to this ravishing soap opera about high fashion and higher crimes and you’re in for the year’s most seductive guilty pleasure. Except why feel guilty about having a blast? Bloody murder hasn’t been this delicious since “Knives Out.”
“House of Gucci” is based on fact but its soul is pure Hollywood. The Gucci family icons assembled with rascally mischief by “Gladiator” director Ridley run rings around the semi-naked warriors in the Roman arena. Is it outrageous camp or “The Godfather” in designer duds? I’m calling a tossup.
It’s only thumbs up for Lady Gaga, who puts real sizzle in the Oscar race—like she did in “A Star is Born”— by giving a flat-out fabulous performance as Patrizia Reggiani, an outsider who works her way into the design dynasty by marrying one of its princes, Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). The poor sucker, who buries his head in law books, doesn’t know what hit him.
His father, Rodolfo, played with elegant snobbery by Jeremy Irons, is appalled. But Uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) recognizes a kindred spirit in Patrizia’s killer instincts. That’s too bad for Aldo’s son, Paolo (Jared Leto), whose dream of running Gucci is hampered by his prodigious lack of talent.
Pacino hams it up royally. But it’s Leto who gives Gaga a run for acting MVP with an immersive dive into the role that renders the actor/rock star unrecognizable behind paunchy padding and a bald cap. The role is a big swing for Leto and he knocks it out of the park by finding the wounded heart of an aging lost boy who knows he’ll never measure up.
That leaves Maurizio, blossoming like a poison flower under his wife’s toxic guidance, to seize control. And Driver, whose accent is the film’s subtlest, makes a feast tracing Maurizio’s arc from timid mouse to cheating husband and dangerous tyrant.
It’s a matter of public record that a year after Maurizo divorced Patrizia in 1995, she hired two hitmen—with the help of her psychic friend Pina (Salma Hayek)—to kill her ex-husband outside his Milan office, resulting in a conviction and a media reputation as the “Black Widow.”
Wowza! Scott crams three decades of Gucci drama into a running time just short of three hours. OK, the film drags when Gaga is off screen. But there’s more family in-fighting, tribal backstabbing and betrayals in these blood ties than a marathon of “Succession.”
Patrizia has complained that Gaga never spoke to her in preparation for the movie, which the actress feared could be construed as “collusion.” No matter. Gaga tears into the role with all the power and emotional intuition she brings to her music. And the way she says “Goot-chee”—bellissima!
Scott’s keen eye for casting extends to Jack Huston as quietly menacing family lawyer Domenico De Sole, and Reeve Carney, of Broadway’s “Hadestown,” is terrific as Tom Ford, the young Texas designer who raised the faltering Gucci empire out of the ashes.
And there you have it. The ultra-glam fashion shows, the Gucci knockoffs that Aldo designs himself, the sinful glee of the rich abusing their privileges, accents that range from barely acceptable to an “SNL” parody of Roberto Benigni. And for those who think Gaga, born Stefani Germanotta of actual Italian stock, sounds more Russian than Tuscan, you be the judge.
But why judge this movie too harshly as its swerves from comedy to tragedy and back again while giving actors and audiences free reign to go bananas. If there’s such a thing as a fun ride into the dark night of the soul, “House of Gucci” is it. And it’s a doozy.