In what may be the closest thing to an unofficial sequel to Showgirls, Gina Gershon takes on the lead role of fashion icon Donna Versace in Lifetime’s House Of Versace. Bring on the Ver-sayce!
Let’s bitch it out…
Having only seen a few “made for TV movies”, I’m not really in a great position to comment on how House of Versace compares. I can say that it plays the way that I would expect things to go. There’s a very predictable, structured feel to the narrative: start with the highs, dip into the lows when adversity – and drug use (obviously) – takes its toll and finish with the dramatic, inevitable climb back to the top.
Looking over the final product, I’d say that the early part of the movie feels more successful. The time period when we’re seeing the behind the scenes battle for Versace as Gianni (Enrico Colantoni) and Donatella (Gina Gershon) struggle to balance their individual needs feels energetic and exciting. Following the melodramatic death of Gianni immediately before an important show (slow-motion fainting, really?), things hit a snag as Donatella grieves by jumping (nose first) into drugs and booze. Even those unfamiliar with the Versace story have seen this kind of drama before, so it was always going to be difficult to add anything new to a familiar downward spiral.
The problem is that familiar scenes of drug use and family abuse are coupled with large time gaps as we jump forward years at a time. This is an issue with any story that covers a significant period of time, but it unfortunately turns small moments into symbolic milestones designed to represent larger issues. This is most poorly realized in the scene when Donatella accidentally smashes her glass in front of her now adult daughter, Allegra (Samantha Hodhod) after getting upset about conspiracies involving Princess Diana. The moment (already high in camp as Gershon struggles to overcome the trappings of a threadbare script) is meant to be “significant” because Donatella’s addiction has traipsed into dangerous territory where someone is going to be injured. The problem is that this laughable accident is meant to embody how far she’s fallen, but in reality it’s just a broken glass and some shouting.
Unfortunately House Of Versace never truly recovers from Gianni’s death. Donatella’s recovery in the mid-2000s at a rehabilitation facility and her return to the Versace label on the “short lease” of the creditors who stepped in to prevent the label from going bankrupt is disappointingly short and contrived. The remainder of the running time is essentially Donatella apologizing to people for being a huge beyotch and their acceptance of her apology at face-value. Didn’t you know? Drug addiction is simply something that can be overcome. There’s no set-backs or adversity and even people you treated like garbage accept you back with open arms. It’s all too simple.
I’m not suggesting that I want more of the recovery period, but the facile way that Donatella brings Versace back with her line of “ready to wear” clothes fails to illuminate how important it was to her and the company. The early parts of the film reinforce how important the brand is and Gianni and Donatella’s contributions are. By the end, the suggestion is simply that all Donatella needed for her innate genius to come out was time to chill out. It’s a very simplistic message, which isn’t too surprising consider writer Rama Laurie Stagner’s straightforward script which often feels a bit paint-by-numbers. This is never more evident than the final line in the closing coda about Donatella’s refusal to wear sandals, which ends things on a false note of frivolity as if to suggest fashion people are so quirky and amusing. But hey, it does bring back that highlarious opening joke about how much Donatella hates sandals, so that’s something, right?
- Not being incredibly familiar with the Versace story, the amount of screen time dedicated to Allegra in the early parts of the film feels very lopsided. I kept wondering why the hell we kept going back to this brat
- Since this is a film about fashion, don’t you love how the costuming reflects the character’s evolution? Early Donatella is embodied by slutty short dresses, druggie Donatella is dressed in oversized, billowy pajamas and reformed/good girl Donatella is decked out in powerful white pantsuits
- As much as I like Colm Feore, Santo isn’t his most exciting role. He basically just shows up to spout off about finances, complain and then disappear. I gather his role in this film is very much how the overlooked Versace sibling feels in real life: secondary
- I’m not going to lie: I cackled like a witch at the “glass smash meltdown” scene (as I have it labeled in my notes). Watching Donatella scream at her children “Stop it! Don’t touch it!” while picking up pieces of glass from the carpet is too much fun
- Finally, the mother/daughter bonding scenes over lipstick reminds me too much of Burlesque when Cher tells Christina Aguilera about her mother’s make-up/life philosophy. A) Yes, I’m referencing Burlesque and B) while I recognize that make-up is to women as shaving is to men (ie: a rite of passage into adulthood), this is a lazy and silly metaphor that should be put out to pasture
Your turn: how does House Of Versace stack up in the pantheons of made-for-TV biopics? Do you feel more informed about the history of Versace? Did Gershon do the role justice (I thought she handled herself well enough, though Colantoni seemed to have more fun)? Were things wrapped up too simply or were you satisfied with the drug addiction/recovery portions? Sound off below
House of Versace will undoubtedly be re-airing on Lifetime regularly for the next little while. Look for more coverage in this genre when yellowwait tackles the TLC biopic later this fall