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► House of Gucci is in UK cinemas from 26 November.
Extending her legs along a sofa, eyes locked on her husband to check that his eyes are on her, Patrizia Reggiani holds her Martini glass expertly aloft. As she coils herself into an upright position to give Maurizio some home truths about his business acumen, she doesn’t spill a drop. Her every move is calculated; her body is both weapon and shield. Patrizia has married into the house of Gucci, and she has started an intergenerational war over the family’s wealth and legacy that she is determined to win. Having met the bookish Maurizio, one of the heirs to the luxury fashion label, at a party, she romances him to the altar with a faux naivete that dissipates soon after their marriage. As she pressures him into giving up his legal studies to take control of the company, Patrizia’s love affair with glamour and power soon starts to unravel the family’s close-knit ties.
The moment that Lady Gaga steps onto the screen as Patrizia, her performance is mesmerising, and full of surprising subtleties. Her over-insistent innocence as she flirts with Maurizio and stalks him across Milan in the early days of their romance is almost charming. Her comic timing is superb, with every hand-holding opportunity, every sideways glance, and every cutting remark delivered to maximum effect. Gaga almost dances her way through the film; channelling Sophia Loren as she sashays across a carpark, she turns the male gaze on its patriarchal head every time she expertly presents Patrizia’s body to an onlooker. Her legs, stocking tops, and balcony-bra cleavage seem to manifest from nowhere every time the character’s will is at stake. Yet when Maurizio pushes her to the margins of what Patrizia believes is her story, Gaga ensures that her heartbroken desperation feels genuine.
Adam Driver, too, gives a pitch-perfect performance (albeit with a poorly-pitched accent). Cutting through the camp excesses of other performances in the film, Driver humanises Maurizio, and his character arc provides much-needed and understated structure. His spark with Gaga is playful, and the obvious mismatch between the two only serves to make their tempestuous relationship more convincing. From banging one another against the walls of her father’s office in a frenzied sex scene, to backing one another into literal and figurative corners, the ever-shifting power dynamic between them is enthralling.
Beyond the obvious nods to Gucci’s fashion legacy (the bamboo-handled bags, the diamond-pattern prints), costume and production designers Janty Yates and Arthur Max have created a sumptuous aesthetic that’s rich with colour and texture. Where the Guccis live in a world of leather, marble, and precious stones, Patrizia’s outsider status is reinforced by her natural place among plastics. She dances on a Perspex floor; she writes in lipstick on a plastic windshield. She is, as her Black maid reminds her in New York, only ever a whisker away from the fake Gucci products that are almost – but not quite – indistinguishable from the real thing. The film’s lack of score is also notable, and speaks to director Ridley Scott’s confidence in the performers to deliver emotional scenes without giving the audience additional, musical cues. That’s not to overlook an eclectic series of needle drop moments, though, which include opera, Annie Lennox, a brilliant sequence using George Michael’s ‘Faith’ – and Boyzone.
Even in its more surprising moments, the soundtrack enhances Roberto Bentivegna and Becky Johnston’s sharp and funny script. While the film could have been taken in at the seams (at two hours forty, it drags a little in places), the quality of the writing and performances carries it through. Al Pacino’s charismatic Aldo and Jeremy Irons’s pragmatic Rodolfo are enjoyable as the stalwart veterans who lose their place in the family hierarchy. The snivelling and pathetically funny Paolo is the role that Jared Leto was born to play, although the heavy use of prosthetics is distracting and his cartoonish performance ends up as caricature, lacking as it does the depth that shores up Gaga’s Patrizia. It’s Salma Hayek, though, who steals every scene as the mystic and self-serving Pina. Complete with tarot cards and cats mewling in the background, Hayek’s straight-faced delivery of some of the film’s most absurd lines is the gift that keeps on giving.
With every twist of the plot and raise of an arched eyebrow, the film leans hard into a camp sensibility that – despite the devastating ending – is thoroughly enjoyable. From start to finish, you get the sense that everyone working on House of Gucci, from Scott to the sound designers, relished the opportunity to go big and bold on the production. The result is a tragi-comic triumph of operatic proportions. Thanks in no small part to stand-out star Lady Gaga, House of Gucci has made melodrama fashionable again.
Originally published: 24 November 2021