Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Canada/USA, 2021. Bron Studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Scott Free Productions, Universal Pictures. Story by Becky Johnston, Screenplay by Becky Johnston, Roberto Bentivegna, based on the book by Sara Gay Forden. Cinematography by Dariusz Wolski. Produced by Giannina Facio, Mark Huffam, Ridley Scott, Kevin J. Walsh. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams. Production Design by Arthur Max. Costume Design by Janty Yates. Film Editing by Claire Simpson.
Attending a party as the guest of a friend and lost in a room full of fashionable people with whom she is not acquainted, Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) enjoys a casual exchange with a friendly stranger that switches gears when he tells her his name: the words “Maurizio Gucci” (played by Adam Driver) light Patrizia’s eyes on fire and they stay that way for the next two and a half hours, her ambition to scale her way out of her comfortable middle-class life, working at her father’s successful truck delivery business, and into the jet set milieu (that Maurizio is actually trying to escape) becomes a passion that she will hold onto until her own disastrous demise. After their initial meeting, Reggiani orchestrates a run-in with the gentleman that eventually leads to a romance and, inevitably, marriage, causing friction between her husband and his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), who disapproves of her lowly status and clearly gold-digging aims. Maurizio has no interest in the Gucci legacy, he wants to be a lawyer and doesn’t care when his father threatens to cut him off, but Patrizia has plans of her own and, when getting Rodolfo on her side doesn’t work out, she warms up instead to Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), the more hands-on side of the fashion label who coaxes the couple back into the family business, and who sees Maurizio as an opportunity to make up for the failings of his own imbecilic son Paolo (Jared Leto, unrecognizable in very convincing prosthetic makeup).
Things get messy as egos grow and goals conflict, Gucci is threatened with obscurity against the flashier names of the eighties and it eventually results in our happy couple pushing Aldo and Paolo out before Maurizio, overconfident in his ability to run the place by himself, leaves himself open to takeover by billionaire financier Nemir Kirdar (Youssef Kerkour). Maurizio also leaves himself prey to Patrizia’s rage when he pushes her aside for the classier Paola Franchi (played by a suitably classy Camille Cottin), daring to threaten the schemes that he inspired in his wife when he first met her years earlier. For the price of one movie ticket, you get high fashion (expertly designed by Janty Yates), gorgeously decked-out villas, greed, passion, betrayal, and showdowns at ski resorts…is it any wonder that after all this comes murder?
Becky Johnston’s adaptation of Sara Gay Forden’s book about the Gucci family legacy, and its complete disappearance from the current multibillion dollar fashion conglomerate that bears its name, wants to have a great time telling this shamelessly flashy story and, from time to time, director Ridley Scott lets her, though it’s possible that a more indulgent filmmaker would have been a better fit (imagine the way Bertrand Bonello filmed Saint Laurent for example). Scott is at least perfectly well aware of the opportunities that these characters present and lets each actor dig their teeth fully into their roles, none with more relish than Gaga in the lead role, who powers this entire thing with her constantly available and exciting energy. It is, on the one hand, necessary to once again endure the same annoying mistake that many Hollywood films set in foreign lands commit, thinking that because we’re hearing the dialogue in English through a magic translator that it’s appropriate for everyone to do Mambo Italiano accents. The campy levels of this effort are not something the director can decide on, but of course, Gaga can easily decide on that, and incorporates Patrizia’s manner of speaking into her gutsy attitude and near-insane focus on her aims. Scott seems to admire this anti-hero despite her flaws, her obsession with her fortune-telling friend (Salma Hayek) is part of what makes her delightful, not pathetic, and as a result she’s the only actor who doesn’t come across as being dressed in reductive Italian drag, actually performing all the aspects of the story that Scott either can’t or doesn’t want to face. Despite being a Brit he directs like an American, refusing to let the role that class plays in this story have its day; the Guccis aren’t actually old money, theirs is just older than Patrizia’s, Maurizio leaving her for Paola, whose cash is even older, is a big part of the rage that provides the film’s climax, and the levels of class mobility at the heart of an irresistibly juicy story are something that Scott really misses out on the opportunity to exploit (Patrizia is basically Claudia Cardinale laughing too loud in The Leopard).
The closest to Gaga’s properly executing the flavour of campy trashiness that this story deserves are Irons, looking like a silent screen star who refuses to give in, and Leto, who has no end of fun overplaying a real overplayer, his eyes empty of intelligence and longing after years of having accepted his family’s judgment that he is a hollow shell. Driver is the furthest from successful in the cast, not only inconsistent with the accent and suffering under a terrible wig (which he stole from Michelle Williams in All The Money In The World), but whatever character and charisma has brought him to this stage in his career is washed out in a role that requires a kind of iconic but blank golden boy status that he just doesn’t possess (it’s the kind of part that would have suited a younger Kim Rossi Stuart).
Where the film really loses its shine, however, is in its mammoth length, two hours and forty minutes is far too generous to a plot that takes too long to get going, is overly elaborate in a lot of unimportant details and then shoves too much exciting drama into its remaining few moments. A better script may have been able to pull off an Irishman-level length, but only select parts of the tale are really dynamic, and it would have been better to cut down the overextended first act (we didn’t need that much time to see Patrizia dazzle her way into the position from which she takes off in the fashion world) and spend more time on the dissolution of the relationship that ended as dramatically as it did. With all that said, though, this movie might not be great, but it is a great time, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself eating every bit of it up with the same enthusiasm with which Patrizia slams that espresso spoon; there might be ninety-nine people in this cast, but she’s the only one you want to watch.
Academy Award Nomination: Best Makeup
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Actress-Drama (Lady Gaga)
Screen Actors Guild Award Nominations: Outstanding Motion Picture Cast; Best Actress (Lady Gaga); Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto)