Movie review: Shit kitsch with mafia money— and the silver goes to House of Gucci

“You look so fine in your Gucci suit

And you’re making more money than your daddy

Could have imagined

But people can go out of fashion, honey, yeah, any time”

George Michael, Precious Box (2004)

Or as that other song goes: “In out, in out, shake it all about.” 

Of course, fashion is by its very nature trend-based and cyclical. 

You get your clothes back from the dry cleaners and it’s a revival.

Even so, the story of Italian fashion house Gucci is as famous for its comeback dramas as it is for its clothing.

As the new movie amply illustrates, the house of Gucci has had more ups and downs and twists and turns than a rollercoaster in a hurricane.

Their story really got going in 1921, when Guccio Gucci opened a small leather-goods shop and saddlery in Florence.

There’s been no end of shake-ups, takeovers and revamps since: In 1993, Bahrain-based Investcorp bought Gucci when it was near bankruptcy for $290m and later floated it for $2.1 billion. Howzat for a turnaround? 

As the business celebrates its centenary, the Gucci name stands for a range of luxury goods from high-quality handbags, well-crafted shoes, and even wallpaper — complete with the signature “double G” logo, naturally. 

That the brand has survived at all is a tribute to the work of two outsider Americans, Tom Ford and the Italian-born Domenico De Sole. Because less than two decades ago the company image was one of financial battles, family feuds and a cold-blooded murder, a combination mercifully rare even in the emotional world of high fashion. 

The real-life Gucci saga is so outrageous that to this day commentators lean on fiction—Greek tragedies, Dynasty, even the Borgias and the Sopranos — in their attempts to explain the drama that keeps on giving. 

Someone should make a movie about it. 

And I think they just have. 

“A Hideous Adaptation of an Infamous Fashion Scandal… Director Ridley Scott and an all-star ensemble stumble badly in an atrocious adaptation of a sensational fashion industry scandal,” screamed a feverish Movieweb in their headline. The actual review goes like this:

“Based on the book by Sara Gay Forden, The House of Gucci is an awful, stereotype-driven caricature of Italians. The accents, depictions, and bloviating behaviour of the cast borders on laughable with one exception. Oscar winner Jared Leto, unrecognisable in a fat suit and make-up, hams it up to an objectionable point. He’s aiming for humour, but hits on offensive bullseye.”

I don’t know about you, but the website’s wokey trashing of this quasi-biopic was as mannered and histrionic than anything in the film.

I mean, come on. Any drama that derives its very existence from a piece of work called — to give it its full, unexpurgated shock horror title — The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, is not exactly aiming for subtlety, is it? Or totally straight faces either. 

Lest we forget, Ridley Scott is a massively experienced filmmaker whose career has spanned six decades. This is the 84 year-old veteran who gave us Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Thelma & Louise, and so on and so forth. This director knows what kind of movie he needs to make, and he’s done a great job bringing to life each of the main players featured in the book.

While it’s true that the movie isn’t to everyone’s taste — well, that’s fitting then because neither is Gucci. 

I admit I’ve owned a pair of their sunglasses (which doesn’t really count), and maybe even coveted a pair of their crocodile loafers for five minutes. But quite honestly, if I had to do an Edina Monsoon and recite my favourite luxury labels Gucci wouldn’t even make the top twenty. Too often they’ve been a curious combination of conservative safeness and porno chic for the haute bourgeoisie.

“Prada, Gucci, Armani, Versace: shit kitsch with mafia money,” was Edina’s fash mag slag cohort Magda’s withering assessment of the Italian fashion houses, in an episode of the label-obsessed satire Absolutely Fabulous. I wouldn’t be that brutal but I would politely remind you of the well-worn phrase truth is stranger than fiction.

All those items with that perpetual interlocking G splashed all over them? Tack central. You only have to look at Elton John and Ed Sheehan in their cringefestive new Christmas video to bear witness to that: two ginger bullfrogs in designer trackies. No one with an ounce of taste is going to want to been seen in anything they wear.

Looks like Versace are no longer sending Reg freebies then.

Apart from showing how Gucci became such a big iconic brand, the film also breezes through about three decades of love, betrayal, revenge and assassination.

House Of Gucci chronicles the family feud that ultimately led to the killing of Guccio’s grandson, Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). As a bookish law school student, he has a fateful encounter with Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), the daughter of a small-time trucking chief, at a chic party in the Milan of 1970 — even though it’s soundtracked by a Studio 54-slanted Donna Summer’s On The Radio from the tail-end of the decade. 

Perhaps someone in the music sourcing department just sneaked a peek at my LastFM scrobbling stats? Either that or someone on the production is clearly a bit of a Donna fan as there’s several more Summer hits sprinkled throughout the film, joining Blondie’s Heart Of Glass (ho ho ho, wink wink) and scores of well-known songs by a parade of Brit acts, including David Bowie, Eurythmics, New Order and George Michael. 

Yog’s organ-heavy Faith works perfectly in the scene where the couple get hitched, even though it was released 15 years after their wedding. 

The musical chronology is certainly all over the place but if you suspend disbelief and pretend you haven’t a clue when the songs were made it’s a romp. 

The film’s narrative is that social climber Patrizia connives her way into Maurizio’s affections to make them the head of the family business, despite the squarer Maurizio despising the elitism of the Gucci brand, at least initially. Patrizia saw an opportunity and lustily pounced. She marries into the family over the objections of Maurizio’s father, the slightly grand veteran actor Rodolfo Gucci, played by slightly grand veteran actor Jeremy Irons.

When her scheming unravels, she’s dumped for a younger woman, so she has her ex-husband killed. That’s the gist of it.

If Dynasty and Succession had a love child then House Of Gucci would be it. It feels like a superior TV movie or a Netflix series that’s been chopped down to feature length — American Crime Story’s The Assassination Of Gianni Versace being the achingly obvious comparison.

Cleverly, by quietly setting the timeline a decade later than it happened, the visuals allows for a more ostentatious 1980s wardrobe for Gaga’s character, who’s clearly more money monster than fame monster. In House Of Gucci she sports outfits that are a cross between Joan Collins as Alexis Colby and a well-dressed tarantula.

Let there be no doubt, the Lady can certainly act, and in Gucci she feasts on a role so vain and consumed with avarice that it perhaps took a major pop star to know you can never underplay it. As an Italian-American “singer”/“actress” who isn’t exactly convincing as a human being, let alone as another person —and whose entire career took a tumble almost the moment Gaga made it through the wilderness — Madonna must be seething.

Joining Driver and Gaga is a long list of talent including Salma Hayek as Pina Auriemma and Jack Huston as Domenico De Sole. 

Rounding out the top table, Al Pacino is Maurizio’s uncle, Gucci CEO Aldo Gucci. And Jared Leto plays Aldo’s son, the soon to be former Gucci design chief Paolo Gucci. 

Curiously, Antonello Annunziata portrays a thankfully mute Karl Lagerfeld at a fashion show, though the actress playing Grace Jones in the same scene appears to be uncredited, leading many to speculate that it’s the real thing playing herself. It certainly looks like her. 

It’s said that Gaga and Leto are “brilliantly over-the-top” in this epic fashion saga, and that Leto’s fat suit and combover makeover render him so unrecognisable that it’s hard to take his character seriously. 

Admission number two: I had absolutely no idea who Jared Leto was while watching House Of Gucci. Yes, of course, I knew the name, but prior to that if he’d walked past me in the street shouting “I’m an act-or,” I would have been none the wiser.

Looking him up in the name of article research I realise that a) he turned 50 yesterday, and b) I have actually seen seen him in a couple of things, but that as a confirmed Method actor it’s a tribute to his portrayals that I’d never joined the dots until now. And for what it’s worth, his band Thirty Seconds To Mars have never had a Top 20 record in Britain. So that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

The point is that having no idea who the person was on the screen playing the Italian clown show that is Paolo means that I was unencumbered by my image of him as a celebrity. Without getting all Freudian this is exactly why many of us struggle with seeing pop stars trying to act, because we can’t get past their hugely cultivated public image.

Going back to Movieweb’s accusation that the key players are perpetuating a stereotype-driven caricature of Italians, all you need to do is a little research and YouTubing of archive interviews and you’ll find the portrayals aren’t that wide of the mark, at all.

We are talking Italians after all. They’re fiery, passionate people. Not all of them, but scores of them. Rome? They do it bigger and better, remember? And when you add money, status, power, and control of an empire into the bargain you ain’t gonna find a bunch of mild-mannered shy and retiring types.

The Gucci stories are legion, including the key players bringing lawsuit upon lawsuit against each other. And when that failed, hurling disdain by throwing objects from tape recorders to ashtrays at each other in board meetings.

To feign outrage at the Guccis portrayal is on a par with the hoo-ha that went on when the Silence Of The Lambs serial killer Buffalo Bill turned out to be less than heterosexual, because “It paints gays in a bad light.”

Well, guess what? Gays kill people, and so do rich bitch ex-wives. Or, rather, they pay someone to do the job. Lady Gucci, as she delighted in being known as, wouldn’t get her hands dirty. Oh no, not her. It‘s a wonder she ever even gave birth.

Born four days before my own mother, this is the woman who, when required to find a job as a condition of her parole, turned down her first offer of early release from jail in 2011 because the very idea of employment horrified her, saying, “I’ve never worked in my life, and I’m certainly not going to start now.”

Having just returned from Milan (which is where I caught the Gucci movie, totally unplanned but brilliantly simpatico and all) I was informed by Gala, a lovely client advisor at Prada — Gucci’s historical rival, admittedly — that the hyper-narcissist socialite had a rather cushy incarceration at nearby San Vittore prison, “including being allowed a pet ferret and everything.”

Alas, the devil wears Gucci, not Prada. Dubbed the “Liz Taylor of luxury labels” in the 1970s and ’80s, Reggiani, amazingly, still earns a million dollars a year from the company, which stems from an agreement with the Gucci empire in 1993 just before she bumped her ex off.

Since doing bird, the former Signora Gucci can be seen walking around the more upscale streets of Milan with a pet macaw on her shoulder, the ferret having been sat on by an inmate at the jail.

See, if anything, House Of Gucci underplays the black comedy of this extremely watchable crime saga. Even though Gaga herself admitted that filming in Milan made her nervous, telling Variety that she half expected an impromptu appearance from the Black Widow herself:

“I wondered all the time when I was in Italy if she was going to show up. I mean, she’s out of jail… there was a safety element. I don’t trust her. I don’t think she’s a good person but I had to love her to play her.

I enthused to Gala at Prada how much I enjoyed the movie. But even though she thought Gaga was a good fit: “She looks like her, though maybe Patrizia was prettier,” she’d already decided she wasn’t going to see the film “because they’re all doing stupid Italian accents, even Al Pacino.”

That’s a shame, because there is lots to like in the House of Gucci.  

This is where I politely point out that as the son of Italian-American parents, Al Pacino is famous for playing Italians. And although he stuck to his own accent in the Godfather trilogy, that series features several American actors doing Italian accents. Heck, Marlon Brando even won an Oscar for playing Don Corleone. 

Check out the trailer if you want some cod-Roman entertainment. The almost absurdly heavy Italiano starts just four seconds in, with a voiceover from Gaga as Patrizia. “It was a name that sounded so sweet, so seductive,” she says with an accent as thick as mascarpone. “Synonymous with worth, style, power. But then it was a curse too.”

I know it may seem like Gaga laid it on a little too thick. But as an old interview with the real-life Regianni proved when it resurfaced on Twitter, she’s pretty much dead-on. If anything, at the other end of the scale the the accent that most troubled me was Jeremy Irons’, ie he barely even bothers to pretend he’s Italian half the time. 

None other than Tom Ford himself, didn’t mince words in his own review. For the fashion designer, who’s briefly portrayed towards the end of the picture, it was more like the house of foochie.

The former creative director for Gucci lambasted the HOG in a review he wrote for the digital publication Air Mail. Ford didn’t hold any punches, going for the knockout with his opening sentence.

“I recently survived a screening of the two-hour-and-37-minute film that is House Of Gucci,” the designer began, before torching the film on several fronts.

The movie rivals the nighttime soap Dynasty for subtlety but does so with a much bigger budget. The film is … well, I’m still not quite sure what it is exactly, but somehow I felt as though I had lived through a hurricane when I left the theatre. Was it a farce or a gripping tale of greed? I often laughed out loud, but was I supposed to?”

To be fair, Ford prefaced his thoughts on the biopic “by stating that my opinion is perhaps biased.” The fashion designer started at Gucci in 1990 and quickly rose up the ranks to become creative director from 1994 to 2004.

“I knew Maurizio Gucci well and worked with him for four of the years that are covered in this film. He was murdered on the morning of March 27, 1995 just steps away from my office in Milan.”

That’ll be these very steps then. Angry security guard optional.

A Gucci memory is better with Gucci Memoire (that's the mini bottle of scent, bagged in San Marino the day before)

It wasn’t all poison penning, though. Ford was enthralled by the “impeccable costumes, stunning sets, and beautiful cinematography.” He raved about Adam Driver as Maurizio, noting his “subtle and nuanced performance.” 

But it was Lady Gaga’s portrayal that compelled Ford to crown her as the film’s finest achievement. 

“But the true star of the film for me is Gaga. It is her film, and she steals the show. In her often over-the-top portrayal of Patrizia Gucci, her accent migrates occasionally from Milan to Moscow. But who cares? Her performance is spot-on. Her face is the thing that one can’t take one’s eyes off of. When she is on-screen, she owns the frame — not an easy task with so many seasoned and talented cast members vying for our attention. Too many, in fact.”

It’s true, Gaga freely luxuriates in every space of the frame, and it’s also true that the big actors eat up the screen time, allowing no chance for real character development. But Ford’s biggest critique seems to be the general campness surrounding the film.

“I was deeply sad for several days after watching House Of Gucci,” he admitted at the end of his review. “It was hard for me to see the humour and camp in something that was so bloody. In real life, none of it was camp. It was at times absurd, but ultimately it was tragic.” 

Still, Ford admitted that he still believes the movie has the makings of a hit. “Splash the Gucci name across things and they usually sell,” he adds, not at cynically.

Because better the devil you know, right?

Last and infamous word goes to the real-life Patrizia though, who actually uttered this immortal phrase in a television interview:

“Is much better to ‘ave money than not to ‘ave. Is better to cry in Rolls Royce than to be ‘appy on a bicycle.”

Mamma mia, has this woman never heard of exercise? Even Edina gave that a go.

Steve Pafford

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