As much as I adored Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, I’ve always feared she scared good actresses away from camp. When it has been attempted, it’s left for supporting roles, like Meryl Streep’s arch stab at it in The Devil Wears Prada. But to go full Dunaway, you have to carry a film from beginning to end obsessively believing your absurd character can be presented as a real person. It requires a skilled actress to pull it off, and must be abetted by a laughably bad script, costumes that the actress has to battle for attention, and a director who doesn’t get that camp is happening right in front of his lens.
House of Gucci fills all these requirements, and Lady Gaga is full to bursting. The flashy performer, even in her subtler scenes, is a blast to watch, and she tries to keep you from ever looking around her or behind her. Because when you do, yikes, is this movie bad.
Ridley Scott is the aforementioned director, who handles this production like a stuffy old man trying to relate to his trans granddaughter. He’s just too straight for all this Gaga. Witness his choice for the opening scene: an unnecessary tease of Adam Driver’s character Maurizio Gucci right before he’s shot, something we all know is coming. The scene has no purpose other than structural, to bookend the film, because…that’s something true crime movies do?
If he’d understood what he was making, Scott would have opened with the next scene. A little Italian sports car zips into a dusty parking lot. Out steps Gaga, squeezed into a tight skirt and blouse and wearing big, cheap jewelry, which will become her theme. She struts past the wolf whistles from the truckers, acting embarrassed but clearly enjoying the attention. We instantly know who her character Patrizia Reggiani is and what she wants. And we instantly know Gaga is going to get everything she wants from this movie. How? She’s wearing 6-inch stilettos, flattering for her small stature but having nothing to do with the 1970 timeframe.
Gaga covers more of her contractual demands in the next scene, when she enters a 90s disco party surrounded by her gays. Meanwhile, it’s still 1970. Patrizia seems annoyed and restless, maybe because the blocking and camerawork are atrocious and Gaga is having PTSD from when she fell off the stage. She removes herself to the bar and meets Maurizio. Their banter is clumsy and poorly written, so Gaga is forced to plaster on an expression of shock that deserves its own sound effect (ka-boing!) when Maurizio tells her he is a GUCCI.
She spends the next scenes stalking Maurizio with a face that mixes desperation, awe and purple eye-shadow into a meme-worthy stew. Over the miscasting of geeky Maurizio into the body of hunky Adam Driver, Gaga lets you know Patrizia is no Hannah Horvath. The attraction is all about the Gucci name.
Now might be a moment to mention the accents, which run the gamut from “I’m not even trying this” Driver to “Letta me a-sound lika Mario” Jared Leto. These delightful speech impediments are the second-best campy thing in this movie. How campy? Imagine if Reba McEntire, Prince Charles and Charo were playing blood relatives. Now make them Italian and have Charo wear a Jaba the Hut costume.
Our Italian Prince Charles here is Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo Gucci, played by Jeremy Irons. He’s all snob, lives in the same fabulous Milanese Moderne house as I Am Love was set, and does get a few good zingers in, like when Patrizia thinks his Klimpt is a Picasso and he replies, “People have made worse mistakes.”. I wish I could say the same to Ridley Scott.
Patrizia’s nervousness in front of Papa Gucci is funny and relatable, and when she’s forced to mention her father owns a trucking business, Rodolfo knows that means mafia. He tells Maurizio to fuck her but don’t marry her. Driver gives a pointed speech to his father about living in the past that makes zero sense coming from empty-headed Maurizio. He gets cut off and has to work for Patrizia’s father washing trucks.
Maurizio and Patrizia marry in 1973, and the filmmakers choose to play George Michael’s Faith over the scene, one in a string of needle drops that try to trick us about the time period. It’s fine for Gaga and her stilettos to pretend it’s 10 years later than it actually is, because camp is timeless and 80s fashion is hilarious. But the movie is plagued by Scott’s insistence on showing the details of Gucci corporate machinations, so why is he lying about timing?
Now a Gucci, Patrizia throws her wrench into those machinations, and Gaga camps her way through it all, defying Scott’s tendencies. Whenever he takes her out of the picture to let the men talk, the movie flatlines.
Scott tries resuscitating these scenes with Al Pacino doing Scent of a Puttana in makeup that can only be described as ‘roasted to a crisp’, and Jared Leto as usual trying to create his own movie within a movie. His Paolo – a sad, insignificant Gucci heir – is so obnoxiously realized, so desperately trying to steal his scenes, that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Gaga put a hit on him. I’ll do it for free, Steph.
Pacino’s Uncle Aldo gets the ‘blue sweater’ speech, where he makes a sharp insight about fashion’s impact on culture after Patrizia is appalled that no one is doing anything about the Gucci knock-offs on Canal Street. If “New Jersey housewives” can feel some cache from walking around with a fake Gucci, Aldo says, it’s good for the brand. Patrizia, insecure about her own cache as a ‘Gucci’, can’t stomach this.
Things bounce around from silly to boring (Paolo pees on Grace Kelly’s scarf; Rodolfo dies; Gaga wears a necklace of pearls so massive you feel sorry for the oysters; Patrizia frames Aldo for bank fraud; Jared tries to make “boof!’ happen) until Maurizio tires of Patrizia’s pushy ways. As the Italian feds raid their home, Maurizio sneaks out the back door (literally) and motorbikes his way across the border to Switzerland, which is all very Sound of Music. Now the hills are alive with the sound of murder, not because he left Patrizia and their 5-year-old daughter at the mercy of the feds, but because at Christmas he gave Patrizia a Bloomingdales gift card. What’s she supposed to do with that? Buy Sketchers? What a bastardo! He must die.
And as we know, he does. But first we get a scene that almost rewards us for getting to the end of this overlong film. Gaga, dressed like she’s auditioning for West Side Story and wearing chubby face prosthetics, sits next to her psychic and henchwoman Pina, played by Salma Hayek in a wig that was dyed pink, blowtorched and rolled in dirt. There have been some strange arrangements of hair put on top of Gaga through this film, but this Salma wig wins the grand prize. I’ll be seriously disappointed if I can’t find it at Spirit Halloween.
The ladies meet the hired guns, hand over the cash, and the rest is history. Gaga’s final words to the assassins are the same I would use in reference to her performance: