Film reviews: House of Gucci | Encanto | The First Wave
Lady Gaga is sensational in Ridley Scott’s glossy take on the saga of the Gucci fashion empire, writes Alistair Harkness
House of Gucci (15) ****
Encanto (PG) ***
The First Wave (N/A) ****
House of Gucci, Ridley Scott’s second major movie in as many months, sees the no-nonsense director take on the irresistibly juicy saga behind the 1995 murder of Maurizio Gucci, grandson of Gucci founder Guccio Gucci and the last member of the family to run the legendary Italian fashion house. It’s a soapy story of thwarted ambition, familial betrayal, sexy clothing, Sicilian hitmen and money grubbing psychics, all of it held together by a sensational turn from Lady Gaga as Maurizio’s scorned ex Patrizia Reggiano, the woman who made him and slayed him.
Looking like she’s just stepped out of a vintage poster for a Gina Lollobridgia film, Gaga’s Patrizia is a superpowered siren who first meets Maurizio (payed by Adam Driver in giant glasses and meticulous tailoring) at a party when he’s still a law student with no interest in the family business and she’s a secretary with no interest in spending the rest of her life working for her father’s trucking company. From the moment she writes her number on the windscreen of his Vespa in red lipstick he’s pretty much putty in her hands and soon marries her, driving a wedge between him and his father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), who thinks she’s a gold digger.
For a while they’re living on the blissed-out fumes of pure love, but when Patrizia meets the other half of the Gucci clan, headed up by the fashion house’s chairman Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) and his idiot son Paulo (Jared Leto, unrecognisable beneath mountains of prosthetics) the film shifts gears into a campy riff on The Godfather as the hitherto mild-mannered Maurizio makes a series of ruthless plays to reinforce the dominance of the family in the fashion world with the increasingly devious Patrizia pulling the strings.
Shot with amped-up opulence, the film represents Scott at his glossiest and, arguably, shallowest, though in many ways it’s an extension of All the Money in the World, his 2017 film about the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III – another Italian-set crime story about the ruthlessness of the one-percent. The facts of this case, though, are sometimes so absurd it makes for a far wilder ride, one in which the accented excesses of the performances only adds to the entertaining vibe, with Gaga at the centre, vamping everything up to eleven.
Another week, another Lin-Manuel Miranda musical hits cinemas, this time via new Disney animation Encanto, a sometimes likeable, sometimes overbearing adventure about a magical kingdom under threat from a mysterious force that threatens to destroy it.
Set in a fantasy version of Colombia, its heroine is Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz), the only member of a magical household not to have been blessed with magical powers. Indeed, her apparent lack of magic is something of a sticking point with her grandmother (María Cecilia Botero), whose desperation to maintain the integrity of her household’s benevolent powers at all costs is tied in with her own tragic past and her desire to never again let any darkness befall her family or town.
But when powerless Mirabel’s try-hard attempts to make herself useful start coinciding with her gifted relatives suddenly finding their own powers waining, she sets off to find her long-since absconded uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), a prophet who has foreseen a terrible calamity – and Mirabel’s own centrality to it. Like an inverse Harry Potter, Mirabel must find strength in her own humble ordinariness if she’s to save her family, though thanks to the film’s elaborately and confusingly constructed world, it’s never quite clear whether magic in the hands of the few is ultimately a good thing or not.
Miranda’s show tunes, meanwhile, are the usual perky songs about self-actualisation that have become his stock-in-trade. They’re fine, but don’t always feel necessary and the film, which is Disney’s 60th animated effort, seems caught between its desire to be a throwback to the animated musicals of old (or at least the animated musicals that fuelled the studio’s comeback with The Little Mermaid) and the more Pixar-inspired output of co-directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush’s previous hit Zootropolis.
Presenting an on-the-ground view of the Covid crisis as New York went into lockdown in March 2020, The First Wave should be a wake-up call for the vaccine and Covid complacent. Set inside one of the city’s stretched-thin hospitals, it’s a gruelling and remarkable portrait of healthcare workers under extreme duress and patients laid out with a crippling illness for which no-one was adequately prepared.
Directed by Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land), the film works as a useful companion piece to Hao Wu’s Wuhan-set 76 Days, showing how quickly the spread of the disease brought New York to its knees, killing many more of its citizens than 9/11 in just a few short weeks. Unlike that film, however, it expands out of the chaotic emergency unit, giving us a portrait of some of the patients’ families, as well as the doctors and nurses as they try to process the unprecedented trauma they’re being forced to deal with on an hourly basis. And then the George Floyd murder ignites citywide Black Lives Matter protests and Heineman is there too, capturing how that movement – with its eerily apposite “I Can’t Breathe” howl of dissent – crashes into the Covid crisis, further underscoring all the disproportionate and heartbreaking ways it has affected Black and Hispanic communities.
House of Gucci is in cinemas from 26 November; Encanto is in cinemas from 24 November; The First Wave is on selected release and streaming on demand from 26 November
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