“House of Gucci”: Opera in Film Form

There are certainly several mixed reviews and criticisms about Ridley Scott’s latest film, “House of Gucci,” which chronicles the life of Patrizia Reggiani, a working-class social climber who marries into the Gucci family, helps build the company, and then orders the murder of her husband Maurizio. The Gucci family has shunned the film, saying they were not consulted, and that the portrayals are inaccurate. Former Gucci designer Tom Ford has admitted to laughing at the film and has criticized its inauthenticity. However, taken at face value, the film is a fantastic, epic piece of entertainment that does everything a good film should (admittedly, with some problems with the Italian accents.

To begin with, Lady Gaga is terrific as Patrizia Gucci. She is not just an American actress speaking with an Italian accent: as a fluent speaker of Italian who has spent time in Italy and who has many Italian friends, I can confirm that she speaks English like an Italian. Her inflections, mannerisms, and personality as a scrappy go-getter are spot-on. The emotional continuity in her performance never wavers, and it builds in intensity –Ridley Scott has gotten an excellent performance out of her. She carries most of the film and has a natural strength on camera. I am not a fan of her as a musician, as I find most of what she does is very derivative and not original (legend Grace Jones has said the same thing in not so many words). But as an interpreter of others’ works when guided, she is excellent. Al Pacino as Uncle Aldo steals any scene he is in; with his gravitas and gravelly voice, he has presence with a capital P. Jared Leto’s performance over the top, campy, expressively Italian, and exaggerated, as is fitting for an eccentric family member. Unfortunately, Adam Driver’s inability to grasp a convincing Italian accent diminishes his dramatic abilities, as he is otherwise credible as the meek, non-confrontational Maurizio. Overall, the acting is very strong, as the cast is full of Oscar winners and industry heavyweights. They play off each other beautifully, with every character somehow enmeshed in another character’s life. They are a family, and with family come all the ups and downs we expect.

In addition to the accents, one of the great criticisms of the film is that it is melodramatic, campy, factually inaccurate. To which I say, yes. But that is what we want, because we want entertainment on a grand scale. The tone and scope of this film is operatic; that is, it is grand, visual, visceral, and emotional. Every turn provides intrigue. Just like in great opera such as Don Giovanni, we have love, sex, lust, revenge, plotting, jealousy, and ultimately murder. What’s wrong if Paolo Gucci is flamboyant in velvet suits, emoting at every turn? If Aldo Gucci is mafioso in manner? And if Patrizia is a great schemer like Lady Macbeth or murderess like Lucia di Lammermoor?

Like a grand opera, we expect great sets and costumes, and the film never fails to deliver on that front. We see palazzi, penthouses, fancy cars, and sophisticated settings. The clothes, by Gucci, of course, are a parade of good design and collectible dresses and suits and shoes. These things are crucial to the plot and not merely eye-candy, for the business of the characters is image and object. The Guccis trade in the visual, and so the film must reflect that, form following content. 

Finally, music is an integral part of this film. There are, of course, many arias and opera extracts throughout the film (especially Rossini), but also pop and disco from the 70s and 80s. Granted, some of the song choices are asynchronous; they are not from the particular time period shown on screen. But all the music choices serve to heighten the emotion of the film, giving it more glamour and creating more of the cultural atmosphere.

We don’t often get a film that is well-crafted and well-acted, and is trying to accomplish one goal: pure entertainment. “House of Gucci” succeeds beautifully, even with its flaws.

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