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‘House of Gucci’ a campy, chaotic cyclone

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I love it when a filmmaker takes a big swing. It’s immensely satisfying to watch and realize in real time that what is happening on the screen is the result of multiple wild decisions, all made with the intent of making the movie in question as much … itself … as possible.

And when you get to see a filmmaker take TWO such swings in the span of just a couple of months, well – I’m here for it.

So it is with Ridley Scott, whose latest is “House of Gucci,” the frankly bonkers dramatization of the somehow-even-MORE-bonkers true story behind the battle for control of the Gucci fashion dynasty. Based on the 2001 book “The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed” by Sarah Gay Forden, it goes deep into the bizarre machinations that led to the dissolution of familial command of the company.

(This follows Scott’s equally ambitious and (almost) equally weird, yet tonally and thematically distinct “The Last Duel,” which came out mere weeks ago following a lengthy COVID delay.)

But where “The Last Duel” was self-serious, “House of Gucci” is high camp, a telenovela run through Google Translate multiple times and ultimately landing in some sort of feverish linguistic no-man’s-land, ostensibly Italian but lacking any sort of consistency from character to character. It is over the top in a bizarre but incredibly watchable way – it’s as though different actors are performing in different movies, only to have the whole thing thrown together.

It is, to be frank, a train wreck. A delightful and oft-mesmerizing train wreck, yes, but very much off the rails.

Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) is a young woman working for her father’s trucking company in Italy in the late 1970s. She’s a party girl who enjoys the attention her looks attract. At one such party, she meets a quiet fellow and strikes up a conversation. Over the course of the night, she realizes that he is Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), an heir to the Gucci fashion house, one of the most successful in the world.

The two start dating and quickly fall in love, leading to a proposal – one that comes without the approval of Maurizio’s stern father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons). Rodolfo is half-owner of Gucci alongside his brother Aldo (Al Pacino); while Maurizio seems to be a success, Aldo’s son Paolo (Jared Leto) is a bit of a black sheep, an aspiring designer whose work is dismissed by both his father and his uncle.

Patrizia and Maurizio wed and the two have a daughter. But when Rodolfo falls ill and passes away, this leaves Maurizio has half-owner of Gucci, partners with his uncle. Patrizia wants more for Maurizio (and by extension herself) and so pushes him to assume more control, with some guidance from Rodolfo’s former lawyer Domenico (Jack Huston). All the while, Patrizia is captivated by a psychic named Gina (Salma Hayek), who is steering Patrizia with some advice of her own.

But as the years pass, there is some dispute over the direction in which Gucci should be taken. And as the formerly quiet and demure Maurizio becomes swept up into the glitz and glamour of his new powerful position, his attitudes begin to change. He pushes against Aldo and grows distant from Patrizia and their daughter. As his arrogance grows, his choices cause more and more pain, with the continued success of Gucci hanging in the balance.

Ultimately, Patrizia makes a choice of her own – one that will have longstanding ramifications for everyone involved.

“House of Gucci” is high-octane melodramatic camp. It is ridiculous and sublime, with everyone involved choosing a lane and flooring it … though not all of them are in the same one. But that sense of disconnect is far more feature than bug – it’s part of the great fun, watching these very talented people operating as if they’re in different films, even when they’re in the same scene. Some appear to be playing it straight, others are digging into the flamboyance and still others *coughcoughJaredLetocough* are basically on another planet. Still, it all somehow works. Not in the traditional sense, maybe, but it works.

Like I said earlier, an extremely entertaining train wreck.

A big part of what makes “House of Gucci” successful is the simple truth that no matter how bizarre Ridley Scott and company choose to go, the actual story maintains a significant lead with regard to utter lunacy. When you’re working from a baseline of batsh---ery, you’ve got a LOT of flexibility – flexibility of which Scott absolutely avails himself.

It’s a great-looking movie as well. The shot selection and locations are great, of course, but the production design is the real star on that side of things. This is a story about a fashion house, so the costuming has to be amazing – and it is. The looks on display here combine high fashion and the ‘80s-era setting magnificently. Exquisite.

Now – let’s talk performances. Lady Gaga’s energy is spot-on for the part, capturing a pitch-perfect blend of swagger and insecurity, even as her accent has Russian Count Chocula vibes. Driver’s journey from uptight nice guy to rich d-bag is engaging – just like everything he does – though there’s a stiffness to him that never quite leaves. The Pacino/Irons dynamic is delightful – Pacino’s rough-and-readiness counterbalances Irons’ stuck-up effeteness beautifully. Both are equally charming, even as they get to that charm from different directions. I don’t even know what to say about Leto, who continues to make compellingly baffling screen choices; his Paolo needs to be seen (and heard) to be believed.

“House of Gucci” doesn’t always make sense, either by internal or external logic. It is weird and soapy and makes no apologies about the size of the swing it takes. If you’re looking for a serious dramatic take on this sordid story, well … this ain’t it. However, while that movie might have been “better,” there’s no way in hell it would have been even close to this much fun.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 29 November 2021 10:50

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