Let’s begin with some homespun philosophy. From my home.
In all the tales of family greed, real and imagined, it is most often not the characters of the family that originally have a grievance. It is the people who have married into the family.
Farmer John decides to divide his property among his three sons. Bill gets the house and the two best paddocks; Brian gets the lower paddock which includes the farm’s water source and Johnny gets the small remainder. All the boys are content. Seniority has been observed in the traditional way and life is to go on.
Then they go home and report to their wives. The Lady MacBethian characters of these women comes to the fore.
Bill’s wife: “I don’t think you’ve got a fair share. You’re the eldest, the majority of the property should go to you. That’s what my father did with my two brothers.”
Brian’s wife: “Why should Bill get the two best paddocks? He’s lazy and the farm will go downhill.”
Johnny’s wife: “You’re the one who has worked tirelessly on that stream. It wouldn’t be flowing if it wasn’t for you.”
The next day, the three boys confront the father at different times, registering complaints where 24 hours before none had existed. Agricultural civil war breaks out at Farmer John’s.
House of Gucci (2021) is such a tale but stylish handbags, loafers and the excessive glitzy glamour of the 1990s replace Akubras, R M Williams boots and dry paddocks.
Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) meets and marries Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). She also marries into the House of Gucci.
This a Machiavellian world of egos as rich as the prices of the fashion they produce.
Patrizia sees the potential of delivering Maurizio’s birthright: total domination of the brand and the business. However, her cunning is denied by the male dominance of the family. Senior family member Aldo (Al Pacino) tells the two that Gucci is not a female name. (Wow! Try saying that out loud in a Fremantle small bar?)
Undeterred, Patrizia begins to orchestrate the couple’s takeover in order to fund the most extravagant of lifestyles. She wants to oust the more established family members in doing so.
There will be blood. Back stabbing a privileged family may not be easy but Patrizia is no easy adversary. It’s tough but it doesn’t have the intensity or the ferocity of Game of Thrones-like family coups.
However, it does lead to the assassination of Maurizio on the steps of the company’s Milan headquarters. “I subscribe to unconventional punishment,” Patrizia says.
House of Gucci ends with the coda that today no member of the business carries the Gucci name. Similarly, Farmer John sold to the Chinese and went to live in Point Piper.
Director Ridley Scott is 85 years old. I mention this only because it is testament to his aesthetic nature that as producer-director, he can still see clearly what makes the modern world tick.
Highly regarded for his development of female characters in a varied career of extra-terrestrial, historic, action drama and modern takes on life, he has added to the list with Lady Gaga’s performance.
She had previously made one film – A Star is Born (2018) – where she reprised the role made famous every few decades by Janet Gaynor (1937), Judy Garland (1954) and Barbra Streisand (1976). Some critics remarked that she played a singer so what of it.
House of Gucci blows that idea away. She is superb. Drawing from her Italian heritage, her accent is flawless and she is the one actor in the film who can have her tongue firmly in cheek in some scenes but still knows when to take it very seriously.
By contrast, Adam Driver plays the bland Maurizio as he perhaps was. Is he bored or deliberately playing down the role against the dynamic of his co-star?
Driver is well known enough that he had his own retrospective on SBS. Yet I had only seen one of his films, made since 2010. Even then, in Lincoln (2012) his name was in the second 100 listed in the credits.
Jeremy Irons as Gucci patriarch Rodolfo looks completely disinterested in the role (or again, is he playing it down as the character really was such a snob?); and Pacino gives his typical quiet delivery until it’s time to shout, which he does a lot.
Heavily made-up Jared Leto goes over the top as Paolo Gucci, Aldo’s son, who if he was working in a Gucci store would be kept down the back, selling keychains and gift cards.
Leto is an Oscar winner for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Dallas Buyers Club (2013). He is better than this.
House of Gucci seems to be a film with a lot of good stories all vying for pride of place in the whole. Fortunately, Lady Gaga sits at the centre of it so your eyes are often on the film’s best bit.
The woman is a talent of enormous proportion and this reviewer looks keenly ahead to see what she may do next.