One thing you can say about Lady Gaga is she didn’t get into the movies by trading on her looks. In other words, she’s not EVEN a pretty face but she’s got acting chops and on-screen cred. I last saw her in the 2018 remake of A Star is Born, where she pulled off being cast as a desirable love object on the strength of her sheer personal magnetism and performance charisma.
A similar dynamic is at work here in House of Gucci, where she plays Patrizia Reggiani, a class outsider who catches the eye and eventually the heart of Maurizio Gucci, scion of the fabled Milanese family that made its fortune through exquisitely crafted, eye-wateringly expensive leathergoods, jewellery and clothing.
The official plot synopsis goes like this: her unbridled ambition begins to unravel the family legacy and triggers a reckless spiral of betrayal, decadence, revenge — and ultimately murder.
It’s a true story, or sufficiently based on truth, according to director Ridley Scott, that he’s not too worried by the outraged reaction of the Gucci family, who say it gives a ‘distorted and unfair’ picture of the family, and was ‘painful and insulting’. Normally I would google extensively to see how much of a ‘based-on-a-true’ story is actually true, but it’s just too big a job in this case so I will leave it to the interested parties to fight it out.
Key facts – marriage, divorce, murder – are a matter of public record, so for the benefit of viewers like me who may have missed or forgotten the dramatic train of events that started with Patrizia and Maurizio’s marriage in 1978, I won’t recapitulate them here. In fact it’s a bonus not to know the outcome – makes it a whole lot more thrilling!
Jeremy Irons plays the aristocratic but ailing Rodolfo Gucci, father of Maurizio and a man of taste, refinement and impeccable manners. He turns on the charm for his son’s latest squeeze, but picks her straight off as a philistine and a gold-digger.
His warnings fail to move the lovestruck Maurizio, played by Adam Driver as a shy, sensitive young man quietly yearning for a more vivid life outside the stultifying gilded cage. When Patrizia sets her cap at him he’s a sitting duck.
Lady Gaga is mesmerizing as the brash Patrizia. She’s the original Italian Bombshell: all curves, tight clothing, swaying hips, polished nails, heavy make-up and bouffant hair. Her sexy strutting attracts wolf whistles and she loves this kind of attention from men. But as she gets older the sex kitten schtick begins to lose its charm for Maurizio, and he begins to revert to the aristocratic tastes and manners of his upbringing.
Rodolfo’s brother Aldo is played by Al Pacino with exuberant flamboyance. Aldo is disappointed in his own son Paolo, played by Jared Leto as a clueless effeminate dreamer. Aldo takes a shine to Patrizia, seeing the combination of her bourgeois energy and his nephew Maurizio’s seriousness as a way forward for the family name and fortune. Pacino is so good at playing this eccentric rich Italian guy that we didn’t recognize it was him till the credits!
I suspect his portrayal has something to do with the Gucci family’s unhappiness with the movie. Whatever liberties Ridley Scott may have taken with the facts, House of Gucci works on its own terms as a real-life soap opera with all the essential ingredients: wealth, power, class, to-die-for settings and fabulous fashion.