Lady Gaga Kills, Literally and Metaphorically, in 'House of Gucci'

Gaga once again proves her star qualities in Ridley Scott's new movie that's ridiculous and unwieldy.

house of gucci, lady gaga
UA Releasing
UA Releasing

Lady Gaga has the ability to consistently surprise. Before A Star Is Born came out in 2018, she faced questions: She could sing the part of a pop ingenue, of course, but could she carry an entire movie? The answer was an absolute yes. Even when Bradley Cooper's direction occasionally seemed more interested in her counterpart, Jackson Maine, played by Cooper himself, Gaga held the camera in her grip.

Now she has yet another test of her multi-hyphenate status, her second major film role playing Patrizia Reggiani, the power-hungry wife of Gucci scion Maurizio in House of Gucci. In a movie where a legion of lauded actors battle for who can chew the most scenery, Gaga is handily the most captivating person on screen, striking the perfect balance between camp destined to live on in GIFs and drag nights and actual pathos. The biggest issue with Ridley Scott's unwieldy movie is that it's not focused enough on Gaga's Patrizia, making detours to talk about the business of the Gucci empire instead of digging into the the doomed relationship that would end in murder.

Scott, who directs from a screenplay by Roberto Bentivegna and Becky Johnston based on Sara Gay Forden's book of the same name, makes no secret that this saga ends in the death of Maurizio, played by Adam Driver, the Gucci heir who brings Patrizia into the family in a romance that ultimately cost him his life. There's a great tale just in that relationship: Just who is Patrizia? An unrepentant gold digger? A spurned spouse? A savvy business woman driven to madness? Did these two ever really love each other? Scott and his collaborators are interested in some of those questions, but they get distracted by all the shiny temptations that the Gucci brand has to offer. Along the way, House of Gucci meanders all too frequently, and yet it remains an entertaining ride even when you desperately want it to get back on the track Gaga's work so cleanly lays out.

House of Gucci, Lady Gaga, Jared Leto
UA Releasing

The first section of the nearly three-hour epic is a glorious romance with a catch. Gaga gives Patrizia, the daughter of a truck driving company (read: a mafioso), a va-va-voom oomph to her every moment, which she turns up the minute she meets Driver's Maurizio at a party and realizes just who he is. There's clearly a reason she's interested in him, but as they date and flirt there's an evident attraction that appears to be not just about his money. Driver, best known for the wall-punching rage he can bring to roles, exudes a meek sweetness that melts under Gaga's intense gaze. Their love scene in an office trailer is one of the most crackling things I've seen on screen this year.

But then his famiglia gets involved and the movie loses focus. As Patrizia officially becomes a Gucci, the audience is introduced to the warring factions under the fashion house's metaphorical roof. There's Maurizio's dad, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons, in scarves, choosing to avoid an Italian accent), the creative genius who spars with his brother, Aldo (Al Pacino going Al Pacino Big), off in America trying to make Gucci a global player. Aldo has his very own failson, Paolo, played by Jared Leto doing the absolute most one can possibly do. Unrecognizable under all the prosthetics save for his baby blues, Leto whines and pouts using an accent that can be generously described as "embarrassing and possibly offensive pizza TV commercial." Overacting is too delicate a term for what Leto is doing here. He's bludgeoning the screen, going bigger than anyone has gone before. You can't help but chuckle, partially out of disbelief.

Aside from Leto's prosciutto sandwich of a performance, the prevalence of Paolo mostly just serves to distract from the Patrizia-Maurizio narrative. We're taken down a winding path involving Paolo's own sartorial ambitions—he, too, wants to be a designer—that is largely just window dressing. As the narrative moves toward its inevitable conclusion, the screenplay tries and fails to capture a bigger picture about the evolution of the Gucci style, introducing Tom Ford (Reeve Carney), and treating us to cameos featuring actors imitating the likes of Anna Wintour and André Leon Talley. In teasing out those details about the company, it loses the emotional arc of Maurizio, who starts to embrace the luxury he once rejected, and Patrizia, who goes from jealous to murderous in a blink of an eye. The script also fails to adequately explain how Patrizia became good friends with Pina, an infomercial tarot card reader played by Salma Hayek. I would watch an entire movie about how this relationship blooms, and yet we're just supposed to accept that it happens, no questions asked.

But even when House of Gucci spins out, I snapped right back into focus every time Gaga showed up. Feel free to debate whether or not she gets the accent right, but it doesn't really matter when her physicality is so extraordinarily vital. She is able to take over the entire frame with a flick of her wrist or a jab of her finger. Her eyes are constantly hungry for what she wants or believes she is owed. One of those things is a movie that gives her character her proper due.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.