REVIEW: Lady Gaga triumphant in mediocre House of Gucci

Lady Gaga has once again proved her acting chops in House of Gucci, but her new film is let down by a lacklustre script and a performance by Jared Leto which is memorable in all the wrong ways.

House of Gucci is a family epic which follows the marriage of Patrizia Reggiani (Gaga) and Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). Patrizia is the daughter of a small business owner, but desperately wants more from her life. When she meets Maurizio, who is studying to be a lawyer but is a potential heir to the Gucci brand, she manipulates her way into his life and family business which starts a chain of events ending with her husband’s infamous murder.

Gaga disappears into her Machiavellian role. Despite being better known for her music, she can portray the subtleties of someone using her charm and wiles to stir the business in a new direction, and the transition of her character from slightly greedy to out-and-out villain. Her performance is the best part of the film.

Not to be forgotten, Driver excellently plays the subtle counterweight to Gaga. He can portray a real range of emotion and this, along with his understated delivery and physicality, means he embodies his character and sells his development from a nervous lawyer-to-be to a ruthless businessman.

It is such a shame that two brilliant performances are so let down by the script and direction. When Patrizia and Maurizio first meet, their chemistry pops. However, the strains put on their relationship are less well-explored, and we abruptly snap from heady romance to slight exasperation to a full marital meltdown.

The whiplash transition makes the film feel like a melodrama and makes it hard to engage with it seriously, as does the strange choice of soundtrack which sees a traditional and extravagant cathedral wedding set to Faith by George Michael.

This weakness in the script also means that characters and emotional weight are discarded. In one scene we cut from a family reunion, to that same family member in a coffin, and then immediately to Al Pacino trying to lure Driver away from his lawyerly ambitions into the family business. There is no impression that Maurizio is particularly sad about this family member’s death, meaning an important emotional beat that would make the audience empathize with him is missing.

Likewise, towards the end of the film what could have been a profound moment of betrayal is undercut by a gag which sucks all of the tension out of the scene.

While the mise-en-scene is beautiful, director Ridley Scott’s decision to shoot most camera angles in close-up means we can’t feel like we’re transported to the cobbled streets of Milan, or a rich person’s extravagant house, and it doesn’t even really give enough time looking at the costumes, which should surely be the bread and butter of a film about the Gucci family.

A film which stretches to almost three-hours long should not have these problems. Despite the epic length, it’s impatient with its material and instead of lingering on real moments of emotional weight it crams the runtime with unnecessary details (and those who see the film will understand the irony of that).

And what can be said about Jared Leto’s performance as Paolo? The make-up department did an excellent job designing the character, and his mismatched costume really set him out as the black sheep (or pastel and brown sheep as the case may be) of the Gucci family.

But it’s a shame that Leto decides to act the part of a leering Italian stereotype with a helium addiction. It gets a few giggles from the audience when Paolo asks “does-a an el-e-fant-a sheet-a in the woods-a?”, but it doesn’t belong in the same film as the performances of Gaga and Driver.

Overall, there is plenty to like in House of Gucci, but don’t expect the Scorsese-esque film that the trailer suggests, as much as it seems Gaga and Driver want to make it that way. It’s sumptuous and beautiful, but the result is something resembling more a plastic Gucci knockoff than the real thing.

House of Gucci is now showing at Kingston Odeon.

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