“House of Gucci” is certainly one of those big beautiful messes that can only be divisive. Much like the infamous Italian family it chronicles, it is divided within itself, with the marketing blaming its central character in a fashion (pun not intended) that isn’t exactly a winning strategy in our #MeToo era.
If it’s the same old method, it requires the same damn defense: if Lady Gaga’s Patrizia Reggiani were a man, she wouldn’t only be glorified and admired despite – or even because of – her murderous actions, she would be given the same gleefully deranged treatment as a classic anti-hero.
Alas, Patrizia is a shrewd, savvy, ambitious, manipulative, deeply sexual negotiator in the body of a woman, and if our current times allow her to be the focus and even gives her a more complex characterization than that of a typical gold digger, it’s still not quite enough, even if what remains is still a delectable feast. This is still Lady Gaga, one of the bright spots of the early aughts who also effortlessly won our hearts and fascination again after she branched into acting and elevated the schmaltz of “A Star Is Born” into something larger than its limitations.
It hardly needs saying that “House of Gucci” calls for an entirely different performance, and Gaga more than rises to the occasion, over the top accent and all. And if the promoters place the blame for what’s to come squarely on her shoulders, the movie does otherwise. This is after all based on a book written by one woman, and co-written by another, and Patrizia benefits. The film is at least savvy enough to realize that the Guccis, while close-knit in a very Italian way, were in decline long before she showed up, and not heeding her as the asset the film depicts her as may have merely been the final nail in the coffin.
Credit also to cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and costume designer Janty Yates, who achieve a kind of symbiosis that only seems possible after working together on very different films with similar tastes in terms of carefully crafted decadence, which include “The Counselor,” “The Martian,” and “All the Money in the World.” Throughout every stage and setting in Patrizia’s life, Gaga shines, not just for her rightfully lauded performance, but how she is practically enshrined in her surroundings.
On-screen at least, Patrizia always has her eye on greater things, and if her fateful meeting with her future husband Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) has the air of a Cinderella story early on, Patrizia upends things by seeking out her awkwardly charming prince and keeping things approachable. When Maurizio is temporarily disowned and comes to her with only love to offer, she accepts him and enjoys how well he fits into her life and her world. And the sex breaks at work are a nice perk.
Nevertheless, Patrizia is the one who urges her husband to get more involved in Gucci, and undertakes the kind of behind the scenes negotiations that women are often reduced to when the power and savvy they possess can only be channeled through men. She is determined to see the Gucci brand become a more respected force, but she’s also not a power hungry Lady MacBeth, and that in essence is her downfall. She’s driven by love, both for her husband and the lifestyle they were able to attain together, and when Maurizio dumps Patrizia for blonder pastures, that devotion is transformed into hate.
Even before that, “House of Gucci” has all the makings of a mafia movie, with each member of the clan preaching the virtues of family but continuously stabbing each other in the back for money and power. Hell, it even has Al Pacino as patriarch Aldo Gucci, who shows so little interest in resting on his laurels he risks running off with the movie – even though he gets a more unconventional counterpart than usual with Jeremy Irons as his brother Rodolfo Gucci.
But the film never allows us to forget that this is a tribe that built a dynasty greater than themselves, a brand that many still aspire to afford today. And it is those who are the least emotionally invested in the clan itself who come out on top. To this day, there is no member of the Gucci family at the company, and it’s a perfect example of the world they helped usher in, one where backstabbing and excess pushed out the very people who helped make it in the first place.