Nuthin’ But a G Thang

House of Gucci

by George Wolf

Just four years ago, director Ridley Scott deconstructed the Getty family’s wealth of dysfunction in the masterful All the Money in the World. House of Gucci shows he’s still got money on his mind, and his mind on the rot that can take root in such mind-altering luxury.

Based on the true events detailed in Sara Gay Forden’s bestseller, the film dissects the complete unraveling of the Gucci family dynasty, a fuse seemingly lit by the unlikely relationship between Muarizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and commoner Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga).

Though the Gucci name gets Patrizia’s attention at their first introduction, Muarizio didn’t seen to have much interest in the empire shared equally by his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and uncle Aldo (Al Pacino). But once he puts a ring on it, the mix of Patrizia’s ambition and Aldo’s invitations finally bring Maurizio into the family business.

Aldo’s own son Paulo (Jared Leto in some nifty makeup) is the Fredo in this clan, and it isn’t long before Paulo is trying to form his own back door alliance with Rodolfo, and Patrizia is Lady Macbeth-ing it everywhere from Italy to New York (complete with bewitching help from Salma Hayek as psychic Pina Auriemma).

You may have noticed that this is a pretty impressive cast. True, and even with their wheel-of-accents there’s little doubt that watching them all try to out-Italian each other in this trashy mash of The Godfather, I, Tonya, Shakespeare and The Real Housewives of Milan is the film’s biggest pleasure. But Scott and screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna can never establish a consistently compelling tone (overly random soundtrack choices don’t help, either), and the two and a half hour run time takes on curious contrasts. Even as the overall narrative has moments that drag, Maurizio’s transformation to the dark side still feels too rushed and convenient.

But Gaga proves worthy of another Oscar nom, and though the film never reaches the level of crackling relevance Scott mined in his look at the Gettys, she proves a fascinating window for the legendary director’s latest foray into an iconic family’s arc of greed, suspicion, betrayal and worse.

And if your Thanksgiving ends up going completely off the rails, House of Gucci is a star-powered and entertaining way to feel a whole lot better about your own family.

Say Something

A Star is Born

by George Wolf

A few weeks ago, for homework, I revisited the 3 previous versions of A Star Is Born. A friend later asked me which one was best.

I have a different answer now.

Director/co-writer/co-star Bradley Cooper brings a new depth of storytelling to the warhorse, with a greater commitment to character and the blazing star power of Lady Gaga.

Cooper is Jackson Maine, a booze-swilling, pill-popping rock star who wanders into a random bar post-gig and catches Ally (Gaga) belting out “La Vie en Rose.” Jack’s entranced, and begins coaxing Ally to sing her own songs instead of covers. Everyone’s got a talent, he tells her, the real gift is having something to say.

Each previous film version represented its era well, but with the rock music setting and several recognizable homages, it’s clear Cooper has a fondness for the Streisand/Kristofferson take from ’76. His new vision carries a raw authenticity that eclipses them all.

The battered star’s instant infatuation with the young talent has never felt more understandable, the undeniable chemistry between Cooper and Gaga fueling the feeling that in Ally, Jack sees a better version of himself.

Cooper, with a lower-range speaking voice and the musical talent from nearly 2 years of tutelage, is every bit the weathered rocker, on a misplaced search for redemption. Watch him when Jack is not the focus of a scene to see a character become complete.

But then, another outstanding acting performance from Bradley Cooper is not a surprise. His remarkably instinctual directing debut here, though, must now place him among the premier talents in film.

Nearly every scene, from stadium rock concert to intimate conversation, is framed for maximum impact. His camera can be stylish but not showy, with seamless scene transitions fueling a forward momentum that will not let the film drag.

The melodramatic story has been stripped of pretense and buoyed by more layers of humanity, and not just between the two leads. Jack’s brother (Sam Elliot), his boyhood friend (Dave Chappelle) and Ally’s father (Andrew Dice Clay) emerge as important characters despite limited screen time.

And then there’s Gaga.

The voice is, well, it’s a force of nature, and the songs (some co-written with Cooper) are memorable. But if a star already shining can be born, welcome Gaga the movie star. She is electric, taking Ally from wide-eyed stage fright to SNL headliner with both tenderness and ferocity, giving this character the strength and nuance she has never had before.

This film has talent everywhere, but it also has stirring things to say about love and sacrifice, about art and commerce, ambition and fame.

I’ll say this: A Star is Born is among the very best of the year.