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HOUSE OF GUCCI: 4 STARS. “plays like a high fashion soap opera.”

“I want to see where this story goes,” says Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) in the early moments of “House of Gucci,” the new dynastic family drama from director Ridley Scott now playing in theatres.

I don’t blame her. It is quite a story.

A Machiavellian mix of love, in-fighting, ambition, fake Guccis, and income tax fraud, “House of Gucci” is almost as outrageous as the accent Jared Leto adopts to play Paolo Gucci, the wannabe designer and, according to his Uncle Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons), “triumph of mediocrity,” who helped create Gucci’s famous double “G” logo.

But is the inspired-by-a-true story movie as attention-grabbing as the designs that made Gucci a household name?

The story begins with a meet cute between Patrizia, a twenty-something who works for her father’s transportation company, and Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the sweetly naïve grandson of Guccio Gucci, founder of the fashion house House of Gucci, and son of actor and designer Rodolfo.

Rodolfo doesn’t approve of Patrizia—“The Reggiani’s are truck drivers!” he snarls—but Maurizio is smitten, and, even at the risk of being written out of his father’s will, marries her at a lavish ceremony where the Gucci side of the church is noticeably empty.

In the beginning they are happy. Maurizio, who has been disowned by his father, is as awkward as Patrizia is confident and when Uncle Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino), who owns 50% of the company, appears in their life, she turns on the charm. “Strong family,” she says, “makes strong business.”

Maurizio is wary of getting involved in the family trade. He doesn’t like the pomp and circumstance that goes along with the name—“We’re not royalty,” he says—and he’s happy doing his own thing, but his wife tries to orchestrate a new era at Gucci, regardless of the strife it will cause in the family.

Soon Maurizio is in charge, the family is at war and cracks begin to show in Patrizia and Maurizio’s marriage. As resentments grows, Maurizio scolds his wife, “The only thing I need from you is to stay away from Gucci before you cause any more damage.” He also distances himself from her personally, beginning an affair with Paola Franchi (Camille Cottin). Divorce looms and, as her anger turns lethal, Patrizia hires a hitman.

“House of Gucci” is one of the rare, recent two-and-a-half-hour movies that earns its running time. Equal parts serious and satirical, it isn’t perfect, but the story of high style betrayal is entertaining. Gaga and Driver have great chemistry and anchor the movie’s chaotic plotting and flights of fancy. I’m looking at you Jared Leto. But more on that later.

As Patrizia, Gaga brings the goods. Simultaneously sweetly charming and ferociously ambitious, she is Gina Lollobrigida mixed with Lady Macbeth, and her performance provides many of the movie’s best moments.

Maurizio’s journey from idealistic to cold-hearted capitalist is handled nicely by Driver and Pacino adds some spice to Uncle Aldo, but the performance everyone will be talking about, for better and for worse, belongs to Leto.

The Oscar winner, known for his transformational roles, is almost unrecognizable as the too- dumb-to-know-how-dumb-he-is Paolo. Looking as though he’s auditioning for the Italian language version of the “Jeffrey Tambor Story,” he is heightened to the point of parody. Paolo longs to be a designer, but is stymied by his lack of talent and judgement. No one will accuse Leto of having no talent, not at all, but some may question his judgement. It may be tough to deliver lines like, “I could finally soar… like a pigeon,” but Leto digs in, chewing the scenery like every line will be his last meal. It’s entertaining, but tips the scales from serious drama to satire in a way Sir. Ridley may not have intended.

With some uneven storytelling, bigger-than-life performances and wealth porn, “House of Gucci” sometimes plays like a high fashion soap opera, but like soap operas, it knows how to keep its audience coming back for more.

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