House of Gucci saved by Lady Gaga?

Dave Kellaway finds himself looking at his watch instead of the latest film by Ridley Scott.


A review of Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci

It was by chance we ended up seeing this movie. As we had our booster, we thought we would watch a film after. This was the only one showing at the time and my partner is Italian, and so had an interest. Ridley Scott, the director, has made great movies – recall the Alien series – but this is one of his less successful creations. He had a big budget and top stars like Lady Gaga, Al Pacino and Adam Driver. But when looking at your watch to see how much longer you have to sit through it, you know a film is not hitting the spot.

It is a true story movie recreating the events leading up to the murder of Maurizio Gucci, mostly from the point of view of his wife Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga). The true-crime genre has to either generate authenticity and realism or set itself up as a camp, black comedy. Scott’s film falls between the two stools. You can build the sets, find the old cars, recreate the style and mix in the contemporary hit songs, but the people must come across as credible too.

Italians have a specific culture, a way of speaking and behaviour. But in this movie, it is exaggerated to the nth degree. It does not help when the actors are mostly English playing Italians. So inside Italy, where people speak Italian, they speak English with an often-embellished Italian accent. This could work in the New York scenes or in international fashion shows, but when you are in an all-Italian situation it weakens the reality.

Too much is over the top or rings untrue. For example, early on the workers at the lorry depot all stop, wolf whistle and make sexist remarks as Patrizia Reggiani walks into the office where she works for her dad, the company owner. Such ogling was more common in the 1970s, but this was the boss’s daughter – a bit unlikely. I am not even sure that she would have been as compliant with the attention in that period.

Paulo Gucci (Jared Leto) is the most ridiculous portrayal. He is supposedly the creative designer rejected by the patriarchs of the family business. It is sometimes hard to understand what he is saying given his ‘Italian’ accent, his campness and his simpering and sighing. Apart from Patrizia Reggiani you never really get an insight or closer understanding of the main characters. The dialogue is predictable and hardly sparkles at all. The plot plods along to its inevitable conclusion.

You could make an anti-capitalist reading of the movie. Did Ridley Scott create the grotesque array of characters to expose how capitalism does not just exploit and alienate workers but distorts and corrupts the lives of its bosses? We see love, decency, human warmth and family affection destroyed by competition and the remorseless drive for profit. A family fights among itself for control of the Gucci empire. Succession, the successful TV series, covers similar ground with more skill.

Part of the reason it fails is that the film is practically educational on how transnational corporations today are eating up all these historic family firms. The illusory belief that Gucci was more about beauty and style than mere money, the viewpoint expressed by the patriarch Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons), is dashed didactically by corporate predators.

Perhaps Scott wants us to see on the full screen all the superficiality and irrationality of this class. So Patrizia’s actions are determined by her interaction with a tarot reader who becomes her companion. Maurizio collects expensive art and high-end goods but has nothing to say about them except to explain to his new lover that an artsy sofa costs more than some people’s apartments. Maybe seeing our bosses as emotional monsters and a bit stupid encourages people not to overestimate the enemy.

On the other hand, if the portrayal is too sympathetic the reaction might be – well, they suffer and are as human as us, so maybe money is not everything and does not make you happy? To a degree that is true, but it is power and control, not money, which is key here. Lack of money does create unhappiness.

If you just focus on the human interactions of a family rather than show how their company profits rest on the exploitation of working people and the ideology of fashion, you are not really conveying reality. The movie was so long that you could have easily dropped some of the scenes and replaced them with how the bags and other Gucci goods are produced or how the ideology of fashion functions. But big Hollywood movies do not do that often, as the fashion industry is based on a similar economic model and so the movie moguls do not encourage such critiques.

There is one scene that does touch on this discussion when Patrizia is outraged at the way fake Gucci bags are sold in New York street markets. Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) replies that he is relaxed about this. As long as the high-end segment of the market is not undermined, what harm is there that a Long Island housewife can attach herself to the Gucci brand through buying an imitation? He understands that the aspiration for the brand is good business. Such insightful dialogue is extremely sparse in the movie.

Much has been made of the Lady Gaga performance as Patrizia. She does outshine the other performers, but it is hard to be sure how far she had to dig to present such a one-dimensional character. She is being promoted as an Oscar winner, but she was much better in A Star is Born. The character she plays is also far from any me-too or feminist protagonist. She obsesses over Maurizio and when she loses him, instead of moving on and becoming independent she pleads constantly for reconciliation before getting her ultimate revenge.

Italian opera and popular music are dolloped through the movie at regular intervals. True life movies set in the past seem to do this all the time now to make them feel authentic. It helps to sell the movie. In this case it also helps to cheer us up as it is a relief from the other deficiencies of the film, including its inordinate length.

Critics have struggled to give it three stars and most concur that Lady Gaga’s performance saves it from utter ridiculousness; though I think they are all a bit stage-struck with the singer turned actress.

I would not particularly recommend this movie unless you really are at a loose end or are a die-hard Lady Gaga fan. Or maybe you just wish to deconstruct it from an anti-capitalist perspective.

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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