*. There’s a longstanding debate when making movies in English with a cast that’s supposed to be speaking in a foreign language. Not whether they should speak in the appropriate language and be given subtitles, that’s a preliminary decision, but whether, if they’re speaking English, it should be regular, “proper” English or English spoken in a thick (and usually laughably fake) accent of whatever language the characters are presumed to be speaking.
*. This can often be seen in World War 2 movies. Do the German officers speak in a posh British accent, or do they say things like “Ve haff vays of making you talk!” Do Russian and Japanese soldiers sound like they’re struggling to get English word order right? That sort of thing.
*. I couldn’t help but think of all this while listening to the cast of House of Gucci. Obviously, they’re Italian, and mostly speaking Italian to each other. But as an English-language production they have to be speaking English. Speaking English in an Italian accent is meant to indicate with a nod and a wink that this is-a what’s-a going on.
*. Performing in such a way can’t be easy. I imagine it as acting with a handicap. Jeremy Irons is an old man now, and to be honest I felt like about halfway through this film he was sort of giving up on the pretense of the Italian accent and just falling back into his regular voice. Meaning that as Maurizio Gucci gets older and sicker he starts to sound more British. Which felt odd.
*. It’s also hard not to let such voices slip into parody. Which actually works for characters like Aldo (Al Pacino) and especially Paolo (Jared Leto) who are more caricatures anyway. I read the book by Sara Gay Forden that the movie was based on and was struck by how Paolo is really set up here as a total idiot as well as an only son, and he wasn’t either. He had no head for business, but then neither did Maurizio (played by Adam Driver).
*. In any event, this movie is a star vehicle for Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani anyway, and Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta) is at least of Italian descent (though her accent was criticized as sounding Russian by a dialect coach who actually worked on the film). I think she’s very good here at expressing a sort of wide-eyed earnestness ripening into something feral, and she makes the movie what it is. It’s not an easy part, having to allow for us to question just how much Patrizia was always a woman on the make and how much she really was in love with Maurizio.
*. On the other hand, I’m still not convinced Adam Driver is much of an actor, but he does bear a resemblance to Maurizio Gucci, who seems to have been a shadow of Patrizia in real life anyway.
*. Aside from just watching Gaga do her a-star-undone thing, I didn’t think there was much to see here. The Gucci family are an Italian snake pit in a tradition that runs from the Borgias to the Sopranos. That’s entertaining enough, but after a while I thought it all started to seem a bit like a fashion show. Director Ridley Scott can really do this kind of thing (production design, art direction) well, but the story probably would have worked better in the long format of a cable series as the business ins-and-outs have to be compressed to the point here where they’re more a distraction than high-stakes drama. And do I think the InvestCorp brain trust would be having meetings in team sweats? No.
*. Speaking of wardrobe, I’m sure they did a terrific job, but Lady Gaga’s lingerie did strike me as being anachronistic. At least I’m pretty sure thongs like that weren’t worn in the 1970s. They look very 2020.
*. In brief, I would have enjoyed it more if they’d played it up as full camp, which is obviously the tug that’s being felt throughout. Unfortunately, the talent involved meant they had to try for something more, and to be sure the camp road might well have ended in disaster. So in the end what they got is a muddle: a slickly produced but empty picture that’s part romance, part biopic, part crime picture, part business story, part music video. Some of it is trashy fun, but I’m hard pressed to think of what the point was.