A wobbly and unstoppable juggernaut, barrelling ahead with the brazen confidence of a flashy Italian supercar with its ‘check engine’ light on, House of Gucci is a glorious, trashy crime melodrama based on real life. It pings from tragicomic to tragic to unintentionally funny from moment to moment: sometimes in the same scene.
A love story turned twisted tale of betrayal and homicide, this is soapy territory, and each actor decides to go in their own direction with their interpretation – with the result that it often feels like they are acting in completely different movies.
Lady Gaga stars as the real ‘Lady Gucci’, aka Patrizia Reggiani, a young Italian woman who married into the luxury goods empire via Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) after meeting him in 1970. In the subsequent decades, she heavily influenced the Machiavellian power struggles between family members over the future of the business. Eventually, those struggles would lead to real-life murder.
The film spans the years of the couple’s glamorous romance and marriage to its eventual collapse. A year after their divorce, Maurizio was shot and killed in Milan: Reggiani was later convicted for putting a hit out on her own ex-husband.
Ridley Scott renders the story faithfully, while fictionalising some details. His larger-than-life cast is rounded out by Jeremy Irons as Rodolfo Gucci, Maurizio’s overbearing father; Salma Hayek as Patrizia’s sly fortune teller; Al Pacino, in formidable shouty form as the powerful New York arm of the family, Aldo Gucci; and Jared Leto, unrecognisable in prosthetics as the family loser, cousin Paolo. They fight and sneer and ham it up and screw each other (sometimes literally), and it’s sugar-rush cinematic gold.
Scott, a veteran filmmaker with a sweeping sense of control and exacting detail over his production (see: Blade Runner, Gladiator, even his most recent release The Last Duel), here seems surprisingly incapable of reeling in his actors. The movie’s tone veers into tongue-in-cheek on occasion, before pulling back to prestige drama.
The result is whiplash-inducing, and hilarious. During an argument, Patrizia tells her husband offhandedly not to ‘be a cretin’; he turns to her, wounded, and says with such pronounced solemnity in his Dolmio-ad accent: “Sweetie, don’t call me a cretin.”
Leto’s faux-Italian gestures, meanwhile, are embarrassing enough to qualify him as a walking international incident. He is a cartoon as cousin Paolo; as a result, when he is betrayed by the family, it never cuts as deeply as it should.
Acting in a better version of the same movie, Gaga dominates as Patrizia, the tiny spitfire clomping around in spike heels and wiggle dresses, an all-consuming fire of a woman whose devastating passions and connivances drive the people around her to turn on one another.
Driver is an excellent foil, quiet and calculating, with flashes of vulnerability. In the fashion stakes, his regal and retro aesthetic, immaculate from shoe to watch to eyewear, is intoxicatingly good.
The wild tone shifts, the eye-bulging supporting performances, and the cringeworthy line delivery mean this is not, by most standards, a ‘good movie’. But House of Gucci is an instant cult classic, a shitshow and a joy to behold, a meme-factory in the making.
And Gaga, a once-in-a-generation diva-turned-movie star in the mould of Barbra Streisand, rules it with an absorbing queenly power that makes House of Gucci hypnotic in spite of its many faults.
House of Gucci is in cinemas from Friday 26 November