House of Gucci’s Lady Gaga is officially nominated for Best Actress

We’re in mid-November, which means that this autumn’s last unseen Oscar challenger is preparing their big unveiling – the last pieces, if you will, in the prize season’s puzzle. By starting this final wave, House of Gucci presents something of a jumble.

Formal reviews are subject to embargo until just the day before the film opens wide on November 23, but screenings started in the last few weeks for press and industry members on both coasts, with social and general reactions allowed from this afternoon. I saw Gucci at the end of October: As instructed by Ridley Scott, the biopic goes big in almost every conceivable direction, starting with a nearly three hour long playing time and continuing to the varying thick accents, wild wigs and hard-handed soundtrack.

This can be a difficult film to take seriously in a price context. Part of this is that Guccis creative advantage – in general, the campier the better – and part of this, well, is not. Scott’s film begins as a tense, lavish romance about getting to know you Patrizia Reggiani (played by Lady Gaga) and Maurizio Gucci (Adam driver); their relationship tests the ties of the Gucci family until, after the death of Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), the couple moves into a controlling position in the company. From there, Scott awkwardly balances the outrageous dissolution of the Patrizia-Maurizio marriage – culminating in Patrizia’s plan to have her husband killed – with the development of the Gucci brand under the challenged Maurizio leadership.

Gucci is its own beast, but its primary interest in the intersections of wealth, crime and family is particularly similar to Scott’s 2017 drama All money in the world. Its Oscar fate may be similar as well. Expanding the range of the best images to a full 10 may constitute a narrow window of opportunity for a more commercial game like this – an option we will continue to see as others of its description, such as West Side Story, is starting to roll out – but a lengthy, somewhat clumsy midrange drama like this still faces a challenge.

There is a truly prominent performance here from Lady Gaga, funny and fearless and – crucially, in a film that tends to lose the thread – completely commanding. She centers, even founding the film, while having a great time doing it. Therefore, she is stuck in the conversation about another nomination for Best Actress, but how far she can go depends largely on the film around her. It fails her somewhat when Maurizio and Patrizia separate, leaving much of the narrative space to Driver’s character. The structure of the film means that Gaga starts stronger than she ends.

The rest of the cast’s prospects are not so clear. Al Pacino and Jared Leto certainly pop as Maurizio’s uncle and cousin respectively, but they are very much in their own, much sillier films – especially Leto. Virtually comic work occasionally finds embrace in the supporting categories, but typical of comics movie (see: Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, or Robert Downey Jr. in Tropical thunder); Leto’s work will prove to be polarizing. Driver, meanwhile, faces another problem: He is underplayed and works with a character that is too subdued to get much traction in a stacked category for best actor. (Below the line, it’s hard to imagine Gucci‘s hair and makeup team is missing out on recognition for their lively contributions, and any Gucci movie will definitely get a peek into the costume race.)

A project like Gucci poses an interesting challenge: Can memes give a film a nomination for best picture? (A star is born says maybe!) Okay, I kid, but there’s a real point in that too: After this year’s pandemic-induced break, the Oscars in 2022 will welcome theatrical performances with larger budgets back in its elite fold, and while the fervor around Gucci‘s marketing may have little to do with quality, the excitement is still to take and feel. If it’s a true hit, this bonanza of vocal-heavy screaming fights, skewed ski trips, and layered prosthetic makeup jobs will mark a quick, post-The last duel Box-office comeback for Scott and an unlikely Hollywood success story. For an industry that has just gotten back on its feet, it can count a lot.

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