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‘House of Gucci’ (2021): Style Over Substance

‘House of Gucci’. Pic: The Indian Express

By Becca Brown

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers!

Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci (2021) has been one of the most anticipated films of the year. Unsurprising, given themes include, but are not limited to: sex; scandal; wealth; family feuds; fashion; class; and murder – and it’s got Lady Gaga in it. On paper, it’s a modern, real-life version of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. But unfortunately, Scott’s adaptation of Sara Gay Forden’s book House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed (2001) might be a case of style over substance (poor pun very much intended).

That is not to say that there is not much to be admired in this new biopic of the Gucci family. I went to see it with a friend of Italian heritage, who believed that, contrary to some critics’ beliefs, the accents are actually quite authentic. Perhaps not authentic enough to warrant Lady Gaga (who plays Patrizia Reggiano) retaining her accent for nine months off-set, but on the whole, they weren’t bad. The exception to this was Jared Leto – described by Mark Kermode in The Guardian as delivering his lines “in a string of high-pitched whoops that suggest he is attempting to communicate with whales”. I do not disagree with him. Lady Gaga had an impossible task living up to her astonishing breakthrough in A Star is Born (2018, dir. Bradley Cooper), but she did retain her undeniable watchability. Her performance was interesting and intense, and at moments carried a film that otherwise comprised of fairly flat acting. Gaga has a rawness not often seen in major Hollywood cinema; perhaps it’s her lack of training that inspires something refreshing, or just her sheer confidence. Either way, she sold it like she sells us everything she does; with total conviction.

Other points of merit that must be commended are costume and cinematography. Both play into the traditional Italian ‘Old Money’ mise en scène, incorporating Gucci’s signature chocolate and beige browns into both costume and colour palette. Moments of the soundtrack compliment this, especially when using classical music. However, most of the soundtrack feels discordant with the feeling of opulence. It is a messy mêlée of Beethoven and Billy Idol, Pavarotti and Blondie, George Michael and Gaga herself. You can’t help but feel that they missed a trick; instead of going for kitsch bops, if they had stuck with Italian Opera throughout, they would have maintained the classy, regal feel, whilst creating a blend of high and low art that counterpoints scenes more authentically. (A example of classical music working effectively in action-led scenes is Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015, dir. Christopher McQuarrie), using Turandot to overscore the fight scene in the theatre, blending high and low art.).

Another notable drawback in the film is the plot itself. I had expected the story to centre around Reggiano rather than Adam Driver’s character, Maurizio Gucci. The film was sold as a strong, independent, somewhat psychopathic woman gaining and losing control of an empire. But even though the marketing and the trailers centred around Gaga, the central focus of the film is undeniably Maurizio. The first half was promising, but in the second half, Reggiano fell to pieces, begging her abusive and cheating husband to take her back, supposedly because she suddenly adored him. Perhaps it really is how events occurred, but this clumsy transition undermined her character, and made her seem two-dimensional; the whole film read as misogynistic, which was unexpected. I can see why Patrizia was frustrated with the film’s presentation of her – I would be too if I’d been depicted as co-dependent as she was.

It is always going to be a challenge when Hollywood-ifying the lives of people who are still living, and it is unsurprising that Patrizia Reggiano complained about the film. Perhaps a more surprising opinion came from Tom Ford, who features as a character in the film. He commented that it was “hard for him to see the humour and camp in something that was so bloody. In real life, none of it was camp.”. Perhaps the campy, kitsch feel that House of Gucci emits to the audience was not Scott’s intention, but Ford makes a valid point. We throw around themes like money, scandal, murder, because Hollywood numbs us to seeing it onscreen. We sit in the cinema watching real people’s lives unravel to the tune of ‘I’m a Believer’ sung in Italian, and it numbs us to genuine tragedy. Scott’s film turning a relatively recent murder into a campy piece of entertainment is a risky choice, and one that here hasn’t entirely paid off. Perhaps it only works if your subjects are fictional or dead.

By Becca Brown

House of Gucci is now showing in cinemas.