The response to House of Gucci, the splashy new docudrama about the fashion brand, may be mixed, from critics and those depicted alike. But it’s proven to a surprise hit. Indeed, it’s the first drama to make money at the box office since Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, nearly two years ago. Still, even its fans have to admit those Italian accents, delivered by largely American actors, are…something. They’re so astonishing, sometimes so over-the-top, that Slate recently spoke to a dialect coach to see which one was best. And the answer is more than a little surprising.
Slate spoke with Garrett Strommen, head of a Los Angeles-based company that offers language lessons and dialect coaching. Strommen deems the movie a “mixed bag,” accent-wise, but he gets into the nitty-gritty about the actors’ attempts to be Italian (while speaking almost exclusively in English, of course).
For instance, while Lady Gaga, as scheming Patrizia Reggiani/Gucci, has earned the bafflement of some accent critics, Strommen’s a fan. He says she’s excellent when speaking Italian (“actually the best of any of the other actors”). But she was also “inconsistent” in certain specific ways, and that her “H sound” was suspiciously “American-sounding.” She also didn’t gesticulate with their hands, a common Italian practice. But then, he noticed, nobody else did either.
Eventually Strommen is asked the million dollar question: Who was the best? The answer wasn’t “what you want to hear,” Strommen admitted. He initially said it was a “a tie between Al Pacino, Lady Gaga, and, God—I can’t believe I’m saying this—Jared Leto,” the latter who is getting tons of, um, notices for his barndoor-broad, way-over-the-top take on doofus Gucci outcast Paolo, son of Pacino’s doomed Aldo. Then he pushes him to the front. “I feel like he won,” Strommen says, though he points out that he had a problem with the “tonic accent, which is that most words have the accent on the second-to-last syllable.”
Here’s what else Strommen had to say about Leto’s divisive turn:
I’m almost upset about this one because he did so much right, but then really kind of messed it up with one thing that he kept doing. With how he hit his consonants, kind of hard and heavy, that was very Italian. Italian is a language that requires you to really use your mouth and tongue. If you don’t speak Italian normally and you’re speaking it properly, your mouth should get tired in about five minutes. He was maybe the the best at some things with that. His vowel sounds were remarkable, honestly. At one point, I even wondered if he was Italian, because at first I didn’t really even recognize him in his makeup. Also, part of what was so convincing was how much he used his hands and gesticulated. I thought that was really convincing and authentic.
The whole thing is a fascinating read, really getting into the weeds of each actor’s attempts at going Italian. But the message is clear: Go big or go home. And Leto went really, super, ultra-big.