Say Yes to the ‘House of Gucci’

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House of Gucci (CREDIT: Fabio Lovino/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Reeve Carney, Camille Cottin

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 157 Minutes

Rating: R for Opulent Language and Sexuality, and a Little Bit of Gun Violence

Release Date: November 24, 2021 (Theaters)

How historically accurate is House of Gucci? I’m not sure, and at this moment, I don’t particularly care. The general bullet points at least are correct as far as I can tell: Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) marries her way into the legendary Gucci fashion family. She reveals her true ambitious self by pushing aside her brother-in-law Paolo (Jared Leto) and uncle-in-law Aldo (Al Pacino). But her union with her husband Maurizio (Adam Driver) eventually falls apart, so much so that after their divorce, she teams up with a psychic (Salma Hayek) to hire a hitman to murder Maurizio. The Guccis are clearing themselves right out of Gucci.

It’s a tale that’s as ripe as a tomato for building a legend around. When you’re going the mythmaking route, it helps if the real-life people being portrayed are dead, which is mostly the case here, except for Reggiani. I don’t know if she plans on watching the film, but either way, I hope she can make peace with the fact that her persona is now partly owned by the culture at large.

And what a persona it is! Gaga goes big. Perhaps the Biggest of Her Career. Now, you may be thinking, “That’s saying something, considering what she’s famous for.” But while her landscapes and scaffolding are frequently over-the-top in baroque and rococo fashions, her foundations are usually grounded in more straightforward feeling. But in this case, Patrizia cannot be contained. She’s the kind of person who wonders aloud, “Will I be successful?” And you know what she really means is, “Look out suckers, I’m not going to stop until I do everything I can to be successful.” You get the feeling that Gaga has captured some elemental force, and if she had let it get away, it would be like unleashing Pandora’s box.

The other performance I’m absolutely in love with is Leto’s take on the black sheep of the family. Paolo Gucci and I have similarly left-of-center views on fashion, so I’m already drawn toward him for that reason. Leto plays him as a sort of simpering Italian version of Rodney Dangerfield, with a voice that sounds like a certain video game plumber. Often when it comes to Leto, I’m put off by stories of his onscreen antics, and even beyond that, I’ve never quite connected with any of his performances. However, in this case, he’s making some wild decisions that perfectly embody the House of Gucci milieu. It’s breathtaking.

As for the rest of the cast, Adam Driver and Jeremy Irons (as Maurizio’s stick-up-his-ass dad Rodolfo) are much more subdued than everyone else. Pacino is subdued by his standards (which is to say, he’s in between the Gucci extremes). And we all know that Salma Hayek always brings it, and she brings it as hard here as she always does. In conclusion, I spent most of this review talking about the acting, and that’s because these are performances that are as hearty and life-sustaining as a Mediterranean diet. Dig in!

House of Gucci is Recommended If You Like: I, Tonya, Super Marios Bros., That Olive Garden commercial with the Selena Gomez song

Grade: 4 out of 5 Fabrics

Matt Damon Seeks Some Tricky Justice in ‘Stillwater’

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Stillwater (CREDIT: Jessica Forde/Focus Features)

Starring: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin, Lilou Siauvaud, Deanna Dunagan

Director: Tom McCarthy

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: R for Language

Release Date: July 30, 2021 (Theaters)

What should you do when the bartender you’re talking to is really helpful but also really racist? That’s the dilemma Bill Baker (Matt Damon) finds himself facing during one of Stillwater‘s most crucial scenes. His daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) is in a French prison for killing her roommate/girlfriend, something she swears she’s innocent of. She’s got a lead about the real potential perp, though, as she may have encountered him while out drinking the night of the incident. The joint is under new management, but luckily for Bill, the old barkeep just hangs around the place. Less luckily, he doesn’t actually have any useful information, though he is willing to finger whatever Arab youth is under suspicion, as he attempts to ingratiate himself with Bill by positing that France has an Arab problem in much the same way that America has a Mexican problem.

Every conflict at the heart of this film is in full focus at this moment. What are you willing to sacrifice in the name of justice? Can you let go of justice to find peace? Would you trample over someone else’s justice in the pursuit of finding your own? Bill’s French companion Virginie (Camille Cottin) is insistent on leaving once she realizes the extent of the bartender’s prejudice, but for Bill, it’s not quite so simple. He’s met a lot of racists, he’s worked with a lot of racists, and he recognizes that if you want to get certain things done, it can be hard to avoid the racists entirely.

Stillwater is like Taken but if the father didn’t have a particular set of skills. Bill decides to take matters into his own hands when Allison’s lawyer tells him that it’s time for her to accept her fate, but he is way out of his depth. He spends most of the movie terrified of accepting that. He’s been a screwup dad who’s hardly ever been around for Allison, and now that he’s actually committed to being there for her, he can’t process the fact that the best way to do that is to just hang back and be patient. (Spoiler alert: he does not hang back and be patient.)

I’ll tell you one other thing: I did not expect Stillwater to be a charming and affecting love story as well, but it in fact does pull that off. Bill and Virginie couldn’t be more anti-perfect for each other: she’s a French stage actress, while he’s an itinerant blue-collar worker from Oklahoma who’s never set foot inside a theater. But somehow he forges a connection with Virginie’s daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) despite them not having a common language, while he also makes himself essential as their go-to handyman. Against all odds, it’s a picture of domestic bliss, but worn uneasily. This is a probing movie about the challenge of accepting that your fate might be very different than what you expected it to be.

Stillwater is Recommended If You Like: The Amanda Knox trial, Genuine connections forged through a language barrier

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Suspects