Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Salma Hayek
Ladies and gentlemen, the charcuterie is open.
Though octogenarian Ridders has vocally blamed millennial apathy on the poor performance of The Last Duel just last month (shit, this year feels long), I’d wager the real culprit was the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it promotional campaign and non-existent theatrical run (I blinked, I missed it). House of Gucci, however, seems destined to fare better with the popular vote, offering an enticing mix of glamour, trash and true crime. And also – if word of mouth is given the opportunity to even have an effect this time – an entire deli counter’s worth of ham.
Yes, everyone is serving pork in Scott’s ripped-from-the-headlines-(several-decades-ago) account of the assassination of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). Spanning two decades and encompassing the love he found and lost for Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) along with several in-house catfights, this is Succession for the gossip-column set, with every cast member offering a performance from a different area of the deli.
The first clue that this is Scott’s intentional satire of the super-rich is the accents. Though set in France, The Last Duel didn’t employ such kooky imitation. House of Gucci does, and this immediately fixes it at a certain point on the map, tonally. Most of the faux-Italian attempts offered are terrible. But this only helps to engender Scott’s tone of exasperated mockery.
First the worst. Jared Leto, smothered in makeup, seems to think he’s Peter Sellers when clowning around as balding buffoon Paolo Gucci; the talentless and unloved son whose idea for the future of fashion collides pastels with brown. Leto squeaks, farts and pratfalls his way through the picture. Even taking the whole as a comedy, he’s perpetually unwelcome. Pick your least favourite ham; he’s it.
Leto’s fumbling is called out most glaringly when he’s opposite his on-screen papa, Al Pacino, playing Aldo. Pacino looks tired, acts as though he’s slumming it in this one, yet still out-hams Leto even when he’s stood still. Aged and smoky, Pacino is serving up some adequate culatello (yes, I’m on a Wikipedia for hams).
Jeremy Irons, on the other-hand, is giving us Tuscan prosciutto. Thin and undercooked, his work as Aldo’s brother Rodolfo is the most strained on offer. Irons seems loathe to even attempt an accent and gives little to anyone, especially us. Still, the stiffness of this approach conjures it’s own kind of eccentricity.
With so much ham around him, Adam Driver’s Maurizio is the so-called ‘straight man’ turn; plain, cured gammon. Driver is an excellent choice here; not used to playing so loose, his unease around everyone else works for the character, and if it weren’t for what’s next he might be the prize pick at the counter.
But then we have Lady Gaga, serving up her finest Miss Piggy. You know when Miss Piggy gets angry at Kermit? And she trashes around the little green frog, hair flying in all directions? Gaga’s Patrizia is that, with a dash of ’70s Liza Minnelli on top. It is a hugely entertaining, Oscar-hungry performance. Patrizia as portrayed here seems to genuinely love Maurizio, but that is swept up by greater passions; to become the ultimate girl-boss; to manipulate from the peripheries; to serve improbable cleavage and shoulder pads wherever she goes. Gaga throws everything into this, and the film feels flatter when she’s not around (which is, unfortunately, most of the last hour).
With so much chaos occurring in the main cast (and we haven’t even covered Salma Hayek as Patrizia’s mud-bathing mystic Pina), you’d have thought House of Gucci would fly through it’s over-indulgent 160 minute running time, but it doesn’t. Though much material is covered and at a semi-decent clip, there’s a strange counter-sense of dawdling that inhabits much of the picture. You can imagine the clapperboard snap and Ridley’s cry of “Action!” before most scenes, as the actors cue-up into their varying personas. This sense of rise and fall, rise and fall settles House of Gucci into an awkward and episodic canter. It never feels particularly on fire to get anywhere, constantly having to reset around it’s actors.
Still, it’s an undeniably fun takedown of the super-rich and our fascination with them. For all the obscene wealth (and obscene squandering) on display, these people are all pleasingly miserable. The schadenfreude in that is really quite delicious. It is not so much that Ridley is pointing at them and saying, “Look, they’re people, too!”, so much as his outstretched finger accuses, “Look, they’re fucking idiots!”.
With the divides between rich and poor widening by the day, and the brazen lack of consequences displayed for those with power and opportunity, House of Gucci is a rather giving reminder that clownish regimes can be toppled… but that such powerhouses usually crumble from within. Much as we might want to rise up and destroy them, human fallibility often allows such dynasties to consume themselves.
But don’t get optimistic just yet. Corporate culture is waiting in the wings to swallow everything once the initial feeding frenzy is over. Like recent biopic King Richard, the end text aspires to wow the audience with dollar signs, making profit the final measure of success and admiration. That this remains the final barometer of such things acts as a reminder that we’re still neck-deep in uber-capitalism. House of Gucci might be a rather overstuffed reminder from history, but it’s also a camp satire of the here and now.
Sometimes it is fun seeing how the sausage is made.