LINDA HOLMES, HOST:
"House Of Gucci" is a whole lot of movie, that's for sure - Lady Gaga in fur hats, Adam Driver in huge glasses and Jared Leto using an Italian accent so thick it will stick right to your pasta.
STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:
It's all in service of a spin on the true story of the Gucci family. It's got fashion. It's got tragedy. And did we mention Jared Leto's accent? I'm Stephen Thompson.
HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. And today we're talking about "House Of Gucci" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Also with us from his home studio is Glen Weldon of the NPR Arts Desk. Hi, Glen.
GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: (Imitating Mario) It's-a-me, Jared Leto. Hey, Linda.
HOLMES: And also here is Aisha Harris. Hey, Aisha.
AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: (Imitating accent) Father, son, house of Gucci.
HOLMES: Oh, boy. OK. So...
WELDON: Oh, boy.
HOLMES: "House Of Gucci" is based on a true story. Adam Driver plays the wealthy Maurizio Gucci, and Lady Gaga plays his wife, Patrizia. We meet them when they're young and first falling in love over the objections of his father, played by Jeremy Irons. But they get married, and she starts to push him to assert himself about the famed family fashion business. That leads to a battle for control of Gucci with his uncle Aldo, played pretty broadly by Al Pacino, and his cousin Paolo, played for pure comedy by Jared Leto. Leto's Italian accent has already been compared to Mario and Luigi from the world of Nintendo, with good reason. Salma Hayek also shows up as Patrizia's psychic, who ultimately gets involved in the unhappy resolution of Patrizia and Maurizio's disintegrating marriage. Ridley Scott directed from a screenplay by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, and the whole thing is based on a book by Sara Gay Forden.
I have given you all the details I possibly can. I don't really know where to start with this movie. Glen, do you want to kick us off?
WELDON: Well, choices were made, and I giggled at many of them - not always the ones I was supposed to be. Look; there are two ways this film could have worked. No. 1, option one, the one I'm leaning toward - you chop this sucker down to an hour and a half.
WELDON: And you, the director - you gather your actors around, and you say, y'all see what Jared's doing? Like, if a chef on a pizza box came to life...
WELDON: You know, he's bringing all the performative nuance of Waluigi - cartoon camp. Like, you see what Gaga's doing?
WELDON: Gaga's got the right idea. She's over here widening her eyes and flaring her nostrils and heaving her bosoms like she's - you know, she's seething like a Disney villain. Let's everybody get on that page.
WELDON: We're going to have some fun with this. Don't think about it too hard. This is a pulpy, dark comedy. It's got Gaga. It's got fashion. It's got '80s needle drops.
HOLMES: It sure does.
WELDON: We're going to give the gays everything they want. Or - that's option one. Option two - and I don't recommend this - you leave it at this running time, but you pull all your actors back from the brink. You, the director - you gather everybody around. But instead you say, OK, y'all see what Adam's doing - acting, where he's playing a human being...
WELDON: ...With recognizable emotions and an actual inner life? No, Jared, I said, inner life - inner. I get it. It's not your thing, but hear me out. And, guys, we've been kicking it around, and let's not do these accents. Like, I just worry that if you all had crazy Italian accents, it might get distracting. You know - and we get it. We don't need it. You're actors, right? So you're all Italian. You live in Milan. Just talk how you would normally talk. I just worry that if we start doing these accents, you're going to slide out of character into caricature. So let's just tell the story, right? It's a pulpy thriller. Let's just tell the story.
What we get is hovering limply between option one and option two. We get mostly option two with flashes of option one and...
WELDON: ...No sense of unifying identity to this thing. Every scene starts - you're like, so which movie are we watching?
HOLMES: Yeah. And Jeremy Irons is kind of on Adam Driver's team, but he is capable of being on Jared Leto's team...
HOLMES: ...As you know if you've watched him in, like, "Watchmen" and stuff like that. So he can be on either one of those two styles. But here, he seems to mostly be on Adam Driver's team. And I should point out Adam Driver has a light accent. He just doesn't have the same kind of accent as Jared Leto.
HOLMES: So I don't know.
WELDON: Not at all.
HOLMES: So you felt, Glen, like, it lingered between those two things. Stephen, what did you think? I was sitting next to you while we watched this movie.
THOMPSON: Yeah. And I got to say, I wish I could share my notes with listeners to show that I wrote down basically what Glen just exactly said about if you take this film - and I still think this is actually possible. If you do an edit of this film where you cut out the most boring hour, you might be left with a roughly 90- to 100-minute camp classic. The problem with splitting the baby in two and making it this length and this pace - you have a potential camp classic that's just too boring.
WELDON: Yeah. Yep.
THOMPSON: There are laughs in this movie. It's hard to tell at times whether they're intentional or not. There was certainly a lot of snickering in the screening room, particularly whenever Jared Leto spoke. But as we're sitting here, I'm finding myself admiring Leto's performance...
THOMPSON: ...More than I thought I did. I think - I don't like betting, and I don't like the Razzie Awards. But if you're betting on the Razzie Awards, bet on Jared Leto 'cause this performance is completely ridiculous. But at the same time, part of what makes the movie boring is the Adam Driver performance, which is so inert, which is so chemistry-free, which is so kind of smirking but not engaging that I kind of come back to, like, what did I enjoy about this movie? I enjoyed ridiculous Jared Leto going, (imitating Mario) it's-a-me, Paolo.
And at one point, I do have to say there's one really, really ugly moment involving the - Jared Leto as Paolo, where he's worried he's sent somebody to prison. And he says, (imitating Mario) oh, he'll drop-a the soap.
And it was just like - and Glen and Linda and I, sitting in the same row of the theater, all went ugh at the same time.
HOLMES: Got to quit making that joke.
THOMPSON: You got to quit making that joke. But on balance, though, this is a bad movie. I thought, not since "Cats," several times while watching this movie.
HARRIS: That's the tagline - not since "Cats."
HOLMES: So, Aisha, you're the only person who was not on one side of me or the other while watching this movie.
HARRIS: Correct. Yes.
HOLMES: What did you think?
HARRIS: I actually kind of enjoyed it, even though it was close to three hours long and I felt almost every minute of that three hours. I think just for Gaga alone, it's worth that sort of torture that I think that Jared Leto is bringing to his performance and also that Adam Driver - I agree with Stephen that Adam Driver felt like he was in a very different movie, and he didn't feel as engaged, and I didn't fully buy this, like, romance between him and Patrizia.
But what I love about it is just Gaga is slinky. She's calculating. It also sort of muddles the straight-up gold digger stereotype where - you know, that could be the way they went about this. But she marries him when he has already - he's basically lost his inheritance. And I think to see this character as less - yes, she is definitely someone who wants to be with someone who has money, but it's not necessarily the only thing that drives her.
This is kind of like a very long episode of "Snapped," that TV show that's all about women...
HARRIS: ...Who like - usually in romantic relationships, something causes them - they're either abused or there's something - obviously, you know, Patrizia wasn't abused, but I think it's interesting to see the way in which this treats this story. I also just wish there was more murder or, like, more...
HARRIS: ...Talking about the murder. I don't know if this is a spoiler to say, but, like, it takes forever to get to (laughter) what most people know what we're going into this for.
HARRIS: But yeah, there were so many moments that I think really won me over because of Gaga. And she also has the capability to do, you know, full on Jared Leto. I'm glad she didn't go that route, but she has full capability of going that route, too (laughter).
HOLMES: Yeah. Well, and the funny thing is, I agree. You know, I talked about this a little bit when we talked about "The Last Duel," which was a movie that I didn't particularly care for - also Ridley Scott.
THOMPSON: Also Adam Driver.
HOLMES: I was going to say, we talked about the fact that Adam Driver is somebody who's almost always interesting to me. This was one of the first times I felt like, yeah, this - even from him, this performance really didn't land for me, and I think it's for a couple of reasons. I think it's because he is a bit adrift in this sea of much broader performances.
And it's not just Leto. It's Gaga and also Al Pacino - these much kind of thicker, sillier performances. And he is really going for a much more naturalistic kind of approach, even though Adam Driver can also be very silly and funny. And I think my bigger problem - you know, it's easy to talk about the Jared Leto performance, which is way, way, way over the top.
I have some more fundamental problems with just the storytelling in this film. You know, you start off, and I kept thinking, like, when does this movie start? Like, I felt like the whole first hour I was thinking, like, I don't feel like the movie has really started because it starts with such a cliched setup of, you know, young man and woman meet. His father doesn't approve because she's not rich enough, but he loves her anyway, and they have amazing sex. And it's this, like - but at the beginning...
THOMPSON: They have frantic sex.
HOLMES: They have frantic sex.
HOLMES: But the thing is, when you first come into this story, it feels like he's a little bit innocent, shy almost, about his relationship with her. And then all of a sudden, I feel like that goes out the window. And there is a point here - I chose - I - boy, I really felt in this movie like I chose the wrong moment to go to the restroom. When I left, they still liked each other, and when I got back, all of a sudden she was, like, this very control harridan almost. And he didn't like her anymore even though they had had this devotion to each other and this, like, it's the two of us against the world.
It felt to me like a turn that was - I don't know what happened while I was gone...
THOMPSON: Not much.
HOLMES: ...But it suddenly felt like they had completely upended the relationship, and he in particular seemed like a totally different person. And then all of a sudden, he has this passionate desire to run Gucci. I think there are some fundamental structural problems with the way they've built this out that aren't about these kind of bigger, campier performances that I think you can argue are a choice on the part of everybody. They're certainly a choice on the part of the actors. I want to make clear Jared Leto knows he's being funny.
WELDON: Oh, yeah.
HARRIS: Oh, yeah.
WELDON: Yeah, yeah.
THOMPSON: I want to throw out a theory here. I think each actor approached his or her performance and at some point early in the process of making this movie thought, am I going to look stupid?
THOMPSON: And I think Jared Leto decided to just lean as hard into that as possible, kind of fearlessly - which is why I'm, like, weirdly coming around on this performance during this discussion - whereas I think Adam Driver decided early on, like, I don't want to look ridiculous and pulled...
THOMPSON: ...Back. And Gaga manages to stay - kind of ride the middle and like...
HOLMES: Well, and the other thing is, remember, Gaga is the one of these people where you can say she's been navigating the question of, are people going to say I look ridiculous...
HOLMES: ...For a long, long...
HARRIS: Right, right.
HOLMES: ...Time fearlessly...
HOLMES: ...Right? So that's not new to her. That's not a new problem to her. And maybe that's why, to me, she's the one who seems the most, like, pitched and yet confident. Do you know what I mean?
HARRIS: Yeah. If that is a choice that Adam Driver made - and who's to say? - but, like, if that is the choice he made, I feel like we've reached a point now where - and I feel like Twitter is going to come for me, Driver Twitter is going to come for me - but, like, we've reached the point where he is getting cast in everything, even if he's not necessarily the right fit. He is, like, sort of in his Jennifer Lawrence phase where he's getting miscast. And this, to me, is a clear miscasting.
Well, I also think it's interesting that they went with mostly American actors. So, like, it's been a long time, I feel, like, since Hollywood has really committed in this way to having American actors do European accents...
HARRIS: ...Like, en masse like it is here. Like, I was getting, like, very Tony Curtis in "Spartacus" with his, like...
HARRIS: ...Brooklyn, N.Y., accent vibes going on here, and it was very strange to me.
HOLMES: Castle of my father.
HARRIS: Yes (laughter).
THOMPSON: Lies the castle of my father, the king.
WELDON: Yonder lies the castle of my father. Now, this is where I think the missing factor here might be Ridley Scott as the director. Now, in his early days, Ridley Scott was this incredibly stylish, idiosyncratic, visually striking director. He made films like "Blade Runner" and "Alien" and "Legend," a film I love despite myself. He's made movies that hit a cultural nerve, like "Thelma & Louise." And his movie "Gladiator" won the Oscar because that's where the culture was at that time.
But lately, as he's gotten a reputation in several interviews with - like folks on the movie "Prometheus" were saying, you know, now he just listened to my input in a really big way. Once he started doing that, he's making a lot more kind of meat-and-potato movies that don't have any kind of distinctive auteurial flair. And maybe that's his thing. Maybe he's a journeyman. I don't know. It's hard for me to get a bead on him in this movie because I think all his actors are doing different things.
HOLMES: Yeah. I liked some of the crazy outfits on Gaga in this movie, for sure. But I will say, for a movie about Gucci, I expected it to feel more stylish. And I think for a lot of people, this movie really came onto their radar when you started to see the photos of Adam Driver and Lady Gaga in the ski outfits. And it kind of felt like, oh, this movie is going to have this really amazing period look to it. And it occasionally does. But it also, like, a lot of the time feels pretty 1998 NBC drama series.
HOLMES: Do you know what I mean?
WELDON: Yeah. And the cinematography kind of echoes that. This is a kind of a chilly-looking film. Everything's kind of gray-beige in a way that I didn't anticipate a movie that's about fashion and the fashion world to be. But that's something he's been doing lately, too - Ridley Scott.
HARRIS: I would like to push back a little bit to just say that I did really kind of enjoy this movie despite everything. And part of the reason - even though the performances, I agree, were kind of all over the place, I do think, occasionally, there are sparks where it seems clear that from the direction or, like, the editorial choices that they're - it's supposed to be kind of over-the-top and campy. And, you know, one of my favorite moments was that sex scene we've already briefly mentioned because it's just like, there's opera music playing. I don't know which aria or whatever, but it's playing. And then they're screwing like jack rabbits. And it's very over-the-top.
I also appreciate the fact that "Faith" by George Michael is a needle drop during the wedding. It just feels like exactly what I - so it's like those little crumbs, for me, made it so that, you know, Ridley Scott, I feel like, at least had a sense that he was trying to make something that was not just this dark, you know, melodrama. And for me, those moments worked, even when someone like Jared Leto felt like it was just - I think it also was just my not-great will towards him in general as just a human being and actor. And based on all the horror stories that other actors have talked about with him, it just seems forced in the way that, you know, a Johnny Depp performance in the mid-to-late 2000s and 2010s has felt. So I don't know. I still - I just want to defend it a little bit because I did kind of enjoy this movie more than you did (laughter).
THOMPSON: I mean, if nothing else, this Jared Leto performance takes so much pressure off Chris Pratt...
THOMPSON: ...Getting cast...
THOMPSON: ...As Mario and all the dunking on Chris Pratt as Mario that has been going on on the internet. Like, now Chris Pratt can basically do whatever he wants.
HOLMES: It's true.
HOLMES: It's really true. And I just want to register, I hear what Aisha's saying. And I think there are a bunch of places in this movie where it's clear that they do know that it's very silly. They do know that it's over-the-top. I mean, it's not just that they use opera in this film. It's that they use opera as Elmer Fudd understood opera.
HOLMES: Like, it's - it is...
HOLMES: ...Every opera piece that you're going to be like, oh, yeah, I get that. Yeah, I know that one. But I hear you. I hear you, Aisha.
HARRIS: I'm going to call it now that Jared Leto will become one of the few people who will receive both an Oscar nomination and a Razzie nomination for this performance.
THOMPSON: Oh, for sure.
HOLMES: I think that is...
THOMPSON: For sure.
HOLMES: ...A very, very strong possibility. I like that call.
Well, we want to know what you think about "House Of Gucci." I know you're going to see it. I know you're going to go see Lady Gaga wearing her fabulous hats, having her fabulous accent. And you're going to make your own decision about that Jared Leto performance. And after you do, find us at facebook.com/pchh or tweet us - @pchh. They worked on this movie for many years, and I cannot wait to hear what all of y'all think. Next up, what is making us happy this week.
All right, now it is time for our favorite segment of this week and - let's face it - every week. What's making us happy this week? Glen Weldon, what's making you happy this week?
WELDON: I really loved Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell," her 2004 novel and also the 2015 BBC adaptation. But somehow, I never got around to her 2020 novel, "Piranesi." It's about a credulous young man who lives in a massive house. It's made up of these big halls and vestibules, and they're all lined with statues. And as far as he knows, this house is his entire world. He's lived in it for as long as he can remember, but he cannot remember very much. He does keep meticulous notes of everything about the house, like the nature of the statues and the tides that are churning underneath the house and sometimes into the house.
This is such a dreamlike setting for a novel that, first, you're going to wonder if it's going to go all Murakami, dream logic on you, which isn't my thing. But then, very neatly, it starts to - he starts to interact with somebody who lives in the house. And we, the reader, are able to intuit a lot of things about what's going on here that the character whose point of view we are in either does not or cannot intuit.
So the mystery of it slowly gives way to something more concrete and dark. And I'm listening to it read by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is great because he is voicing both this mysterious other person in the house, but he's doing it through the filter of this main character, whose point of view we're in, and this character's limited understanding of this other person, if that makes sense. So I would say this book really - and this audio book really casts a spell. So it's not for listening around the house as you're doing chores. Save it for a long trip. But that's "Piranesi" by Susanna Clarke, read by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
HOLMES: Thank you, Glen. That was very artful spoiler avoidance...
WELDON: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
HOLMES: ...Also, I have to say. I appreciate it very much. All right. Aisha Harris, what is making you happy this week?
HARRIS: All right. Well, picture this. It's 2018. You're watching the NBA All-Star game, and then this happens.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
FERGIE: (Singing) Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light...
HARRIS: That was Fergalicious, aka Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, performing the national anthem. And the reason I bring it up again is because there's this YouTube person, star - I've never heard of him before, but his name is Rob Anderson. And he created a book that commemorates this moment - a children's picture book that commemorates this moment. It's called "The Fergamerican National Anthem: A Civics Story."
He tweeted not too long ago a video of the audio from this glorious performance (laughter) with the picture book as he's - it's playing at he's flipping through the pages of the book. So you have the lyrics underneath. You have whoa, say, can you see by the doors - and then you have the image of a woman with a shopping cart full of doors. And then...
HARRIS: ...Early lie, and there's Pinocchio on the next page with the sun coming up behind him. So there's very literal takes on the way in which she mispronounces all of the lyrics in the national anthem. And it just - it made me so happy. It made me smile. I just love the book. I love the way in which it's utilized. And I will forever love "The Fergamerican National Anthem: A Civics Story" by Rob Anderson.
WELDON: Absolutely great pick. Rob Anderson, really good Instagram follow - solid Instagram follow, very funny guy.
HOLMES: I agree with you. I loved this when I saw this video. All right. Thank you very much, Aisha Harris. Stephen Thompson, what is making you happy this week?
THOMPSON: We are coming up on the end of the year, which means best-of lists. And the whole NPR Music team has been picking over the year in music. At the same time that this has been going on, several major album releases have come up that we've had to kind of contend with through the lens of the year in review. And we're frantically trying to assess, is the Adele record one of the best of the year? Is the Silk Sonic record one of the best of the year? And so these kind of late-in-the-year albums kind of, critically speaking, run the risk of getting lost in the shuffle.
And one that jumped out at me that came out at the beginning of November is by a band called Snail Mail - and, you know, kind of a rising indie rock band led by a singer named Lindsey Jordan. It has been a really, really good band, but really levels up on this album. And my fear is that it's somehow going to get lost because it came out too late in the year. Let's actually hear a little bit of the song "Valentine."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VALENTINE")
SNAIL MAIL: (Singing) So why'd you want to erase me, darling valentine?
THOMPSON: As you can hear, the dream of the '90s is alive in a lot of the rock music that is coming out right now. I think this is one of the best rock records of the year. I think it's a huge leap forward for this band, which has kind of been on one of these, like, next big thing lists for a long time. But this record manages to be slick and warm at the same time, while still just, like, pulling out some art. If you want to see the video for "Valentine," it is brutal and bloody and very arty. So that's what's making me happy this week is this great rock record that just came out that I don't want to get lost in the shuffle. The album is called "Valentine" by Snail Mail.
HOLMES: Thank you very much, Stephen Thompson.
So you know me. You know I like a cooking YouTube channel. And recently, I have been greatly enjoying the YouTube channel for Epicurious. If you know Epicurious, they're kind of one of the recipes center sorts of services. But also, they have this really cool YouTube channel. And I want to shout out two kind of related series that they have that I enjoy very much.
One is a regular at-home cook and a professional chef put together the ingredients that they would use to make something, whether it's, like, you know, roast chicken dinner or macaroni cheese or something like that. And, of course, the professional chef will have $250 worth of ingredients, and the home chef will have, you know, $15 worth of ingredients. And then they'll swap. And then they cook with each other's ingredients. And the home chef also uses instructions that come from the professional chef, and the professional chef tries to dress up the ingredients that they got from the home chef.
But even more, I am a fan of one that they refer to as four levels of chefs. And they basically have a beginner chef, an intermediate chef, a professional chef, and then the fourth level is a food scientist. And so you follow all three of these people while they make their version of whatever this thing is. And then the food scientist comes in at the end and explains, here's why these things come out differently. Here's what the differences are. And what I love about this series is it's not intended to say the food that's made by the basic-level chef is bad. It's just meant to say, as you work harder and put more work into food that you make, here is how it changes. And often, the result is, like, they're all good. They're all fine. But as you put in more effort, here's how it's different.
What really sells these series is the people have lovely and funny personalities. They're all really friendly, and they all kind of have gotten to know each other. So you'll see them sort of sending messages to each other through their videos. So the Epicurious YouTube channel is what is making me happy this week.
If you want links for what we recommended, plus some more recommendations, you can subscribe to our newsletter. It's at npr.org/popculturenewsletter.
That brings us to the end of our show. You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me at @lindaholmes. You can find Stephen at @idislikestephen. You can find Glen at @ghweldon and Aisha at @craftingmystyle. You can find our editor Jessica Reedy at @jessica_reedy, our producer Candice Lim at @thecandicelim, producer Rommel Wood at @blergisphere. And you can follow producer Mike Katzif, as always, at @mikekatzif - K-A-T-Z-I-F. Mike's band, Hello Come In, provides the music you're bobbing your head to right now. Thanks to all of you for being here.
WELDON: Thank you.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
HARRIS: Thank you.
HOLMES: (Imitating Italian accent) And thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR (laughter).
THOMPSON: (Imitating Italian accent) Thank you for listening.
HOLMES: We will see you all next week.
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