Like Joan Collins and Susan Lucci before her, Gaga’s a one-woman showcase of cunning delight in the star-studded “Gucci” (★★★ out of four; rated R; in theaters), which follows love, rampant betrayal and a brazen murder plot through three decades of the iconic fashion house. One can totally take director Ridley Scott’s satire and everyone in it seriously, though it’s way more enjoyable to sit back and let the couture camp wash over you.
“Gucci” begins in 1978 with Patrizia Reggiani (Gaga), a young Italian woman working for her dad’s trucking company, hitting up a Milanese disco. Going for a drink, she finds Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) behind the bar, a bespectacled and bookish guy she’s attracted to – even more so when she learns his name. However, Maurizio would rather study law than get involved in his family’s world-renowned fashion house, run by his ailing father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and personable uncle Aldo (Al Pacino).
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The awkward Maurizio falls in love and wants to get married to Patrizia but his dad thinks she’s a gold digger, which leads to Rodolfo cutting off his son's wealth and Maurizio working for Patrizia’s father. After they get hitched, the movie becomes a fashionably modern “Macbeth”: The Gucci company is going through a rocky time, with Aldo commercializing the brand, and Patrizia manipulates Maurizio back into the family fold to a point where both wield a considerable amount of power. Maurizio gradually embraces his wolfish business side and Patrizia gets pushed aside – and consequently confides in a call-in TV psychic (Salma Hayek) – as the story veers from darkly comic to ultimately tragic.
Scott creates an extremely stylish world of runways, ostentatious estates and stunning costumes for his various characters. And his actors are a colorful bunch in a bring-your-own-accent situation. At one point, Irons looks like he’s been slathered in horror movie makeup, Pacino balances playful and raging sides as the personable Aldo, and an unrecognizable Jared Leto – who’s there somewhere underneath a ton of prosthetics – is a blast to watch as Aldo’s mercurial son Paolo.
A wannabe fashion designer with some of the movie’s best lines (“I want to soar like a pigeon”), Paolo’s treated like the family’s resident idiot yet Leto also gives him a lovable-loser quality amid his various double-crossing relatives. Leto and Pacino trying to out-ham each other is a salty joy to behold.
As Maurizio, Driver’s extremely solid playing it mostly straight to Gaga's high-heeled force of nature. Her Patrizia has quite the character arc, seemingly marrying for love (though what’s not clear is if she was always playing the long game) and then trying to be a puppet master until her chicanery backfires. Gaga also understands what kind of movie she’s in, biting into lines like “It’s time to take out the trash” with delicious gusto, flipping out about fake handbags and getting her jealous hackles up on the ski slopes when Maurizio’s childhood friend (Camille Cottin) comes back into his life.
“House of Gucci” clocks in at two hours at 37 minutes and for the most part moves at a good pace, though does tend to plod when Gaga’s not on screen and the plot turns to Maurizio’s business dealings as Gucci competes with rival fashion houses for fresh talent. (Reeve Carney has a nice albeit quick turn as Tom Ford.) There are also some on-the-nose needle drops (George Michael’s “Faith” playing at Maurizio and Patrizia’s church wedding is a tad much) and those seeking Oscar-ready earnestness might not get the film’s cheeky commitment to mixing old-school “Dynasty” melodrama with “Succession”-esque wit.
But be warned, fellow best actress contenders: The power of Gaga is undeniable as she rules “House of Gucci” with powerful panache and addictive swagger.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'House of Gucci' review: Lady Gaga owns soapy satire with star swagger