Judge Brett Cullum was crazy before the drugs!
Every empire has a fall and rise!
Let me get this out of the way first: Gina Gershon has not been this much fun since she emerged naked out of a papier-mâché volcano in Showgirls. Her portrayal of Donatella Versace is a spooky tour-de-farce of chain-smoking fury and sadness in stilettos. House of Versace is a laughable Lifetime movie, but she commits to it as if she were gunning for Oscar gold. For no other reason than this fierce impersonation, you should give this flick a gander, even if it is an uneven mess of mixing fashion, fact, and ludicrous fiction. Gina Gershon lost eleven pounds, strapped herself into wigs, had her face scotch taped, and sported prosthetics to get the look right. A speech therapist coached her in the accent, and the actress figured out how to roll her hips forward, hunch herself over, and stick her neck out to get the mannerisms perfect. Gershon is brilliant, but too bad she's trapped in a made-for-basic-cable movie rather than a serious attempt to bring this tragedy to life.
The story of the Versace empire would seem to begin and end with its founder and visionary, Gianni Versace (Enrico Colantoni, Galaxy Quest), who was murdered in South Beach during 1997. However, his sister Donatello (Gershon) soldiered on with mixed results, and somehow managed to keep the legacy of her brother alive with a fashion line that remains in business and the limelight. The teleplay is loosely based on the novel House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival by Deborah Ball. It tries to make sense of all the drama in the Versace family and the intricate business dealings and struggles after the death of Gianni.
All of it is terribly interesting, but in the end Lifetime seems to settle for making House of Versace a cautionary tale where Donatello just has to go to rehab to turn everything around. The performances are just fine with Gina Gershon giving it all she has, and everybody else rising to her occasion. Enrico Colantoni makes for an accurate Gianni, hot tempered but basically sweet and earnest at his core. Raquel Welch (Dr. No) gives a nice supporting turn as Aunt Lucia who serves as the traditional anchor for the Versace family. Donna Murphy (Tangled) and Colm Feore (Thor) also show up as supporting characters that serve as the voices of reason surrounding Donatella.
Where it all gets ridiculous are in the details and in the ridiculous moments which plague the House of Versace sending in to pure camp heaven. Donatella is seen chain-smoking constantly around couture gowns and high-fashion fabrics, and nobody seems concerned about this at all. Zingers like "If you want to put me on a leash, it better be diamond studded or you can kiss my ass!" are abundant in the script. It all starts to feel like it was written for Saturday Night Live's Maya Rudolph rather than any dramatic actress. Gershon gets to throw tantrums which include cracking up a champagne flute across a chandelier in defiance, or fluttering her eyelids anytime she has something serious to say. It's flashy and so over the top that nothing can really save it. As much of a mess it is, it remains entertaining.
The DVD is bare bones, which is a real shame. When House of Versace aired originally on Lifetime, it was coupled with a nice documentary piece that showed news and fashion archive footage of the real Gianni and Donatella in their height. The only supplement here is a trailer that is funny but hardly reveals any insight into the making of the project. At least we can't complain about the transfer or the audio track, they are both clear as a bell. There is a sepia tone to most of the film, which I think was a style choice to create a nostalgic feel and also hide some of the practical effects to transform Gina Gershon into Donatella. It doesn't hinder anything, but you will notice that the colors look a little drained in some sequences.
It's all actually great fun just to see Gina Gershon take on Donatella Versace in a film that slips all too easily into camp. The thing is that Gershon bravely just tries to out act a bad script with trite conclusions, but in the end, she can't win when the aim is so low. House of Versace simply wants to make the viewer believe that there was once a glittering decadent empire designed by a gay man who was murdered, and it all had to be saved by his straight sister who had to give up drugs and alcohol first to reclaim his prize. It reduces the Versace empire into simple broad strokes that come off more comical than tragic. Still, there's a lot of fun to be had here watching the slutty clothes, the cocaine, the bad dancing, and the ridiculous lines get tossed off.
A guilty pleasure that dresses the mistresses rather than the wives.
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