Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: MGM
Animalistic sex scenes were an Adam Driver specialty in the seminal 10s show Girls - not least in SE6 when his character's libido, or perception of it while making an autobiographical film, reached laugh-inducing new levels.
There are echoes of Girls in Driver's sex scene in House of Gucci, in which he plays the reluctant head of the Gucci empire, Maurizio. He brings that same surreal, untamed energy, but may not have banked on Lady Gaga as Maurizio’s scheming wife Patrizia not only matching his energy, but doubling it.
This is the woman behind the 'Bad Romance' video, after all!
A scene so ridiculous is conceivably designed to spark headlines and ridicule. But I’d add that, like the sex in Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls, it serves the central theme of the film: ostentation. It also unequivocally illustrates Gaga’s total commitment to a gargantuan role, in which she's incredible.
Spanning 25 years, this explosive true-crime drama follows the ambitious Patrizia from humble beginnings to queen-like status as quasi-Gucci boss via her ill-fated marriage to Maurizio; in 1998, the jilted wife was sentenced to 26 years in prison for plotting Maurizio's murder via hitmen in 1995. (She was released in 2014).
Given its somewhat overwhelming scope, we never stay in the same moment long. That’s a shame: the desire to examine every elaborately-staged scene – the lavish outfits, the countess extras, the jaw-dropping scenery - is intense. Imagine if director Ridley Scott had zipped through set pieces in Gladiator or Blade Runner with such urgency.
That said, the breakneck speed works. After two hours and 44 minutes, I was exhausted, but never bored - and always, always entertained. The effect is like 30 Gaga videos back-to-back - Patrizia in the club, Patrizia on the slopes - or bingeing an entire, frenzied season of American Crime Story in one sitting. (A Golden Globe-winning Gaga was of course in American Horror Story in 2015, a role that surely prepared her for this one.)
Naturally, Gaga is in her element serving face, body, and gasp-inducing looks. But it would be insulting to repeat the accusation made against her in 2018’s A Star Is Born, for which she was Oscar-nominated: that she’s just playing herself.
Yes, the role of Ally suited Gaga, as does Patrizia. All three women know how to put on a show. But Gaga, it’s widely noted, is a good egg. Patrizia is not. And despite admirable attempts to humanise her early on, our star thrives in all-out, operatic baddie mode.
Maurizio's arc is less dramatic, and with a weak accent and a surprisingly understated performance, Driver is for once swallowed up by his surroundings. But, as the subservient Maurizio, that’s perhaps intentional.
Jared Leto, meanwhile, is unignorable as the Gucci family's resident idiot, Paulo. His grotesque physical transformation, astonishing accent, and garbled, off-kilter comedy will likely attract awards – but possibly conversations around stereotyping.
Elsewhere, Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons are reliably perfect as the Gucci family’s storied patriarchs, while Camille Cottin is flighty and fun as Maurizio’s post-Patrizia lover Paola and Salma Hayek a hoot as Patrizia’s clairvoyant friend and partner in crime Pina Auriemma.
However, it’s Leto's slapstick turn that best epitomises the film's worship of flamboyance which, although absolutely on-brand, comes at a cost. Patrizia's rage aside, the film lacks emotionality. There's soapy melodrama in spades, but the couple’s daughters are curiously overlooked, for example, as are Patrizia’s relationships with her wider family.
Still, if you go in with the right expectations, House of Gucci is nothing short of sensational.
House of Gucci hits UK cinemas on 24 November 2021
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