“House of Gucci” arrives in theaters Thanksgiving Day stuffed to the gills, a bit like the film industry’s equivalent of a communal turducken. The film sports a cast with a pedigree as illustrious as the subject it covers, studded with actors and a director whose Academy Award accolades might as well be honorifics. With so much talent and such prominent awards accompanying it, one might expect this movie to be better than it is. Blessedly, it’s a lot sillier than that, a popcorn flick that will almost certainly be a crowd-pleaser once it begins streaming.
Based on the book “The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed,” by Sara Gay Forden, “House of Gucci” details the true crime story of Patrizia Reggiani. Dubbed “The Black Widow” by the Italian press, she successfully hired a pair of hitmen in 1995 to kill her husband, Maurizio Gucci, the former head of the Gucci fashion label. The film chronicles their romance, starting when the two first met through to Gucci’s death. It ends with a coda featuring the murder trial where she was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years.
Academy Award winner Lady Gaga leads this movie as Patrizia, with Academy Award nominee Adam Driver as the nebbishy nerdy Maurizio, who slowly transforms under her manipulations into a spendthrift who uses the Gucci label’s earnings to fund an extravagant lifestyle. Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons plays Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo, who warns him about the social-climbing gold-digger he’s enamored with before cutting him off. Academy Award winner Al Pacino is Rodolfo’s brother, Aldo, who is as snowed by Patrizia as Maurizio is and offers them a place in the company after Rodolfo’s passing. Academy Award winner Jared Leto (utterly unrecognizable under what must be 50 lbs of prosthetics) is Aldo’s son Paolo, the foolish and foppish heir Aldo turns out in favor of Maurizio, to his eternal regret. Even Academy Award nominee Salma Hayek shows up as Pina, the woman using Patrizia as hard as Patrizia uses everyone else around her.
With Academy Award nominee Ridley Scott at the helm directing, one might expect an intimately detailed study of power and money, a “Succession” for the big screen. And indeed, this is a family backstabbing fest where no one is likable, even when they are sympathetic. There’s also some real history to show off here, like a young Anna Wintour (Catherine Walker) eyeing the Gucci label to see if it’s ripe for a comeback or a re-creation of Tom Ford (Reeve Carney)’s first fashion show for the brand.
But the book on which the movie is based is as much sex-and-murder salaciousness as it is a fashion house deep dive. That overall beach-reading tone is infused into the film from the get-go, as well, coming off as camp. Nothing here is subtle; the acting is as broad as the varied faux Italian accents, the story as loud and garish as the clothes Gaga sports in the film, emblazoned head-to-toe with dozens upon dozens of the interlocking “G” Gucci label image.
The story isn’t helped by being utterly predictable in its beats. Here is Patrizia suddenly finding this dull nerd hot because of his last name; there is Maurizio bowled over at this brazen woman pursuing him in a way those of his upper-class upbringing would never dare. Here is Aldo complaining Paolo is a terrible businessman while allowing himself to be an easy mark for Patrizia’s blatant flattery. There is Paolo easily sliding into being pitted against his father to reveal the company’s depth of tax fraud. Eventually, Rodolfo’s predictions Maurizio will become bored and embarrassed by Patrizia’s déclassé ways bear out, and it’s not long before he packs her and the kid back to Milan so he can blow the family fortune as he sees fit.
But it’s the performances that make this film into something genuinely over the top. Gaga runs right at the role of Patrizia with all the subtlety of a bowling ball crashing through a stained-glass window. On the one hand, she delivers some of the film’s best high camp lines perfectly, snarling, “It’s time to take out the trash” with vampiric rage and crossing herself with utter sincerity while reciting “Father, Son and House of Gucci.” These line readings will become indelible moments of her career, as sure as Cher’s scene in “Moonstruck” where she slapped lovestruck Nicholas Cage and yelled, “Snap out of it!” Unfortunately, the chances of them leading to the best actress Oscar she so clearly is crying out for are probably nil. (And unlike “A Star is Born,” there’s no best original song here for her to win as her consolation prize.)
Driver and Irons at least attempt for varying degrees of restraint, but Pacino knows what kind of film he’s in and practically tap dances his take on Aldo’s excesses. Leto is the real shocker, and it’s not just the makeup job, fat suit or painfully greasy bald-cap-and-wig situation affixed to the top of his head. His lilting, mewling vocals and hysterically bad accent are minutes away from Nintendo’s “Mario & Luigi,” creating scenes cringeworthy, yet hilarious.
While these performances will probably doom the film come awards season, they are the movie’s saving grace. The sheer silliness of the proceedings neutralize the film’s attempts at plumbing the dark side of wealth and the corruption of trying to keep the business “in the family,” but it makes it a whole lot more fun. The final title card attributes the Gucci label’s comeback success of the last 25 years to removing anyone with the last name Gucci from the company. But at least we can give thanks for their fall being solid entertainment.