There’s a moment in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci that sums up the glorious excess of this true-life tale of a woman scorned.
“We’ve run out of spells,” mutters Lady Gaga’s Patrizia Reggiani. “We need something stronger.”
She’s sitting in a mud bath, surrounded by candles, alongside her cat-loving, fortune-telling guru Pina (Salma Hayek).
They are plotting the cold-blooded downfall of her husband Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the lawyer who has gradually wrestled control of the famed Italian fashion empire from his relatives. You couldn’t make this up.
Based on Sara Gay Forden’s book The House of Gucci: A True Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, this is Scott’s second movie in as many months, after his multi-perspective medieval tale, The Last Duel, which also starred Driver.
That took itself a mite too seriously. This does not.
As the story unfolds, the fashions – and the performances – become increasingly gauche. But Scott stylishly draws you into an operatic story of familial treachery, one that comes embossed in gold leaf.
It’s certainly more energetic than Scott’s previous study of the obscenely rich – 2017’s All The Money In The World, which peered into the exclusive world of billionaire oil tycoon J Paul Getty.
Filled with pop hits from the 1970s and ’80s, from Donna Summer’s I Feel Love to Blondie’s Heart of Glass and David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes, this is as close as Scott has come to making a disco movie.
It's something akin to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, as greed, ambition and venal vengeance are stirred into an intoxicating cauldron.
Singer-turned-actress Gaga is undoubtedly the film’s secret weapon as the power-hungry Patrizia, who first spies the shy, awkward Maurizio at a party in Milan in 1978. He makes her a drink and they dance but then he walks away. That doesn’t deter her.
She tracks him to where he’s studying law and doesn’t let go. Soon, Maurizio’s father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) pronounces she’s after the family money, causing a rift with his son, who defies him and marries her.
It’s only when his uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) heals wounds and lures them to New York on the Concorde that they work their way back into the family fold.
Gaga’s character isn’t quite the get-rich-quick gold-digger Rodolfo imagines, but she is increasingly enamoured with the exotic lifestyle being a Gucci can afford and becomes keen to imprint her stamp on the company.
As the film lurches into the Eighties, and rival brands such Versace and Ralph Lauren seem daring by comparison to the staid Gucci, nobody quite knows how to move things forward. Certainly not Aldo’s “idiot” son Paolo (Jared Leto), an extravagant oaf with delusions of grandeur and a desperate desire to design.
Balding and moustachioed, Leto is caked here under more make-up than when he played the Joker in Suicide Squad, with some impressive prosthetics giving him jowls almost as thick as his Italian accent.
His dialogue is to die for.
“I could soar like a pigeon,” he cries at one point, when Patrizia promises him a chance to design his own fashion line for Gucci – a turning point in the film that sets her at odds with the quietly calculating Maurizio.
Dressed in purple and with flowers in his lapels, the flamboyant, foppish Paolo is the court jester in the Gucci family, though when Leto and Pacino get going, it’s a true contest to see who can chew more of the ornate, gilt-edged furniture in the palazzo settings.
Their scenes are among the best, giving House of Gucci a comical edge that never quite returns when they’re sidelined in the story and Maurizio and Patrizia’s ailing marriage takes centre stage.
Driver’s performance is one of reserve; it’s almost impossible to tell what he’s thinking – beyond when he first professes his love for Patrizia to his father.
Indeed, his best scenes also come early, when he’s arguing with Rodolfo, a former actor who went into the fashion business with his brother Aldo, but really sits alone and mourns the loss of his movie-star wife, Maurizio’s mother.
Those who are expecting an undulating tale of a fashion house resurrected will be disappointed, although the film does touch on the arrival of Tom Ford (Reeve Carney) and Domenico De Sole (Jack Huston), the two men that turned Gucci into a multibillion-dollar giant.
There is also a convincing turn from Moroccan-British actor Youssef Kerkour, who plays Nemir Kirdar, the Iraqi-Turkish businessman who invested heavily in Gucci at just the right moment.
This being a film where ostentatious displays of wealth are everything, the costumes by Scott’s regular designer Janty Yates are marvellous.
Gaga gets the best of them, looking dreamy in an array of couture-wear – the best surely being a cherry-red all-in-one outfit she wears on the ski slopes as she’s delivering a "back off" speech to Paola Franchi (Call My Agent’s Camille Cottin), who is angling to get her claws into Maurizio.
The bloody shade of the costume is a perfect foreshadowing of what’s to come.
If House of Gucci disappoints, it’s in the final act. The film runs to 158 minutes – its overlong running time hardly a surprise, given that everything else herein is overblown – and it can’t quite sustain the momentum all the way to the end.
Scott also can’t help himself in depicting Italy with nuns, gelato, espresso, soccer, opera – you name it, just about every Italian cliche is nailed on. Yet none of this distracts too much in a film that prides itself on grand, sweeping gestures.
Emotionally, House of Gucci doesn’t quite land, but it’s an enjoyable romp led by Gaga, who most certainly deserves some awards love this season for her performance.
If nothing else, it whisks you across the high-spots of Europe, as if you were watching a Grace Kelly movie.
One thing’s for sure, despite the criminality on display, it won’t ruin the Guccis' reputation one jot.
“The Vatican of fashion”, as Maurizio calls them, will probably gain a few more worshippers after this film drops.
House of Gucci is in UAE cinemas from December 2