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If you could smell between my groins, you’d understand.

House of Gucci

(SPOILERS) It’s easy to see why reactions to House of Gucci have been all over the map. And why it has done decent business despite a shortfall in critical raves. Perhaps insufficient business when set against its price tag, but compared to Sir Ridders’ other 2021 movie (The Last Duel), it’s a monster. Starring the fame monster. House of Gucci boasts the director’s typically unmoderated, get-it-in-the-can approach to the many-and-varied subject matter that has characterised his output over the last two decades: efficient, effective, but lacking any sense of authorial oversight beyond the technical (which is ever-accomplished but also entirely indifferent). It’s thus down to the cast to give the movie oomph, which means, intermittently, that House of Gucci is highly entertaining. But only intermittently.

It’s never an easy task, trying to persuade a biopic to stand on its own two feet, divorced from the necessity of a linear, overliteral retelling its protagonists’ potted history. House of Gucci’s problem ought to have been less the danger of homogenising the material than honing what to include, as there’s so much wheat there: the internecine family disputes feuds and routs; the generational approbation; the domestic scene of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and wife Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga); the conflict and rage that led to the latter murdering the former. Simply on the latter front, I was a little surprised the investigation and trial were largely dropped, as Ridders’ “in” is more Patrizia than her husband (the picture essentially ends with his offing).

I was left with lingering questions. Like why it took two years to arrest Patrizia (it seems that, despite her being an immediate suspect, there was no evidence, so the police were looking into other possibilities, such as Maurizio having been “the target of an international plot after sell his stake… to an Arab bank”). I was also, as is frequently the case with protracted biopics, occasionally distracted by the timeline. When there’s a quarter of a century covered, the odd greying of temples isn’t really sufficient delineation. Scott is very haphazard with supplying definite dates, which is even more irritating; why an onscreen year is justified in some instances but not in others is something only a man in his mid-eighties can answer, perhaps semi-coherently.

Co-writer (with Roberto Bentivegna) Becky Johnston has past experience of the biopic – Seven Years in Tibet – and of divas – she adapted Prince of Tides for Streisand and wrote Under the Cherry Moon for Prince – so she’s no novice; I suspect the lack of clarity is largely down to Scott, though. You can see similar indifference to peaks, troughs and the range of events in the likes of Exodus: Gods and Kings and All the Money in the World. I’m sure the same will be true of Kitbag Napoleon.

Where there are goods here, cheap knock-offs or not, they’re in performance. Popular (alleged) bubble-headed Satanist spirit cooker and one-of-each-genitaled Lady Gaga/Stefani Germanotta follows her persuasive turn in A Star is Born with another persuasive turn. While every criticism levelled at her personally may be valid – not least her deplorable showing on the award circuit, spouting guff about suffering for her art; I don’t know, as I’ve strenuously avoided any such preening outpourings – there’s no doubting that she’s an energetic tour de force here. Like a svelter Miriam Margolyes in I Love You to Death mode, but with added “Is there an exorcist in the house?” eyes (for that, you want Margolyes kicking Arnie’s ass in End of Days). She essays the turn from adoring wife to homicidal ex with aplomb (whether Patrizia had priors in regard to her conviction is up for debate). Regardless of whether the accent stinks – Hayek’s dialect coach suggested “… it sounds more Russian” – hers is easily the most engaging lead performance of this year’s potential Best Actress Oscar nominees.

Driver is typically proficient. Here he sports nose-normalising super specs that do their level best. Maurizio is an easily overshadowed, taciturn and interiorised role, and it doesn’t help that the transition from a guy happy to work for his father-in-law’s trucking business and reluctant to return to the family fold – at the urging of Al Pacino’s Uncle Aldo, rather than Jeremy Irons’ father Rudolfo, who has disinherited him – should be underdeveloped. It would seem to be at Patrizia’s urging, but the point where Maurizio segues from passenger to active participant is a bit blurry, taking in as it does deceiving cousin Paolo (Jared Leto) and allying himself with family lawyer Domenicio De Sole (Jack Huston).

There’s no reticence in the performances of Pacino, Irons and Leto. Leto is, of course – beside having alleged #MeToo proclivities in abundance – the absurdist scene stealer of the movie. Paolo’s more a Les Grossman cartoon than an actual person, but he’s hugely entertaining with it and an absolute boost to House of Gucci. Indeed, the best thing you can say about Scott is that he didn’t rein his actor in, and let Leto just go with it. Paulo’s an Italian caricature up to eleven – Mike Myers would be proud to call such a performance his own – and he comes equipped with some flat-out hilarious dialogue, often in the form of mis- or made-up sayings (“My bladder may be full, but my dreams are even fuller”; “Does an elephant shit in the jungle?”; “I could finally soar. Like a pigeon”; “Don’t even look at me, you lying sack of potatoes”) And that’s when he isn’t strangling vowels like he’s auditioning for Clouseau: “He’s quiet like a moose. A tiny little moose”.

Even Pacino’s no match for Leto, which doesn’t make their scenes together any less enjoyable. Particularly since Paolo is such an incredible dimwit – much more so than the actual Paolo, it seems, whose fashion label was a success and who sniffed out the discrepancies in the Gucci balance sheet because the profits made no sense – that Aldo has no choice but to admit defeat in the face of overwhelming ignorance (the parking garage scene is priceless). Leto’s scenes with Irons are equally amusing, although the key enjoyment for me was seeing Irons and Pacino share a scene. It helps that the characters – reserved and gregarious respectively – are natural fits and contrasts. Irons in the part is infinitely preferable to the initially attached De Niro.

There’s additional support from Salma Hayek (her hubby is CEO of Kering, of which Gucci is a subsidiary) and Youssef Kerkour (as the founder of Intercorp, destined to purchase Gucci). Huston, who has been drifting in and out of jobs listlessly since making a mark in Boardwalk Empire and crashed and burned in his big bid at stardom (Ben-Hur), finally earns a strong supporting role. Unfortunately, it’s a strong supporting role in which all the other strong supporting roles instantly demand all the attention in the room.

Ideally, House of Gucci would have achieved the giddy satirical zest of The Wolf of Wall Street, both in interrogating the greed at the subject matter’s core and appreciating just how alluring and intoxicating it is. What we’re presented with here are one percenters, but far from the uber-elite variety; the Guccis are simply the better (or worse) half living, and an highly colourful example of a dysfunctional (extended) family.

One noticeable takeaway is Ridders’ atypical reliance on a pop soundtrack. Not generally his style, and here we have an eclectic selection including George Michael, Donna Summer, Bowie, Blondie, New Order, The Eurythmics, Pino Donaggio, an Italian cover of I’m a Believer and Eric B & Rakim. The score from Ridley regular Harry Gregson-Williams is rather good too.

I’d label House of Gucci flashy but empty, but that would only be a compliment if it reflected the gaudy excesses of the family’s strife. I’ve seen it referred to as camp – Tom Ford: “In real life, none of it was camp. It was at times absurd, but ultimately it was tragic” – but a few OTT performances don’t really make the movie so. This is most similar to Scott’s previous super-rich bio All the Money in the World; he isn’t striving for anything definable or distinct; he’s simply filming the script and leaving it at that. Sometimes he’s servicing something off-the-wall – Leto – but as a filmmaker, there’s little discernible difference between this and Robin Hood. That’s why A Good Year remains such an oddity: a romcom, a genre he has no aptitude for, and it shows (but which is nevertheless quite likeable despite itself). House of Gucci occasionally splashes glorious tastelessness over its audience, despite Scott’s best efforts to avoid a mess.


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