HOUSE OF GUCCI (2021)
When an outsider from humble beginnings marries into the wealthy Gucci family, her unbridled ambition begins to unravel their legacy...
House of Gucci covers a lot of territory over its 157-minutes, but it somehow covers even more ground tonally. The movie, legendary director Ridley Scott’s second in as many months (following the superior The Last Duel), is broadly about in-fighting within the Gucci family fashion dynasty. More specifically, it’s the story of Patrizia Reggiani’s (Lady Gaga) rise and fall, and rise and fall, within the family during her tumultuous marriage to Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver).
Patricia and Maurizio make for a picture-perfect couple at first. Maurizio even marries her against the wishes of his father Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons). Maurizio’s more than happy taking a job at Patricia’s father’s semi-truck company and living a normal, non-dynastic life, and his bookish personality doesn’t fit the parameters of the future head of a household as powerful and as influential as the Gucci’s.
Rodolfo and Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) are the true leaders of the family. But they’re rapidly ageing–especially Rodolfo, whose health’s taken a turn for the worse—and the fashion industry is no place for old men. Aldo’s son Paolo (Jared Leto) is an oafish goof, lacking the family’s intrinsic fashion style, so he can’t be relied upon to take over the company once the older generation is unable. Aldo knows this. “My son is an idiot. By he’s my idiot”, he says multiple times throughout the film. He clearly sees that Maurizio, who’s studying to become a lawyer, is the obvious candidate to take over the business. But Patricia does too. She has a genuine, heartfelt love for Maurizio, but from the beginning she’s been playing chess, not checkers, with the prized Gucci throne in her sights.
Lady Gaga plays Patricia as a calculating panther waiting to pounce on her prey once given an opportunity. She’s vicious and unafraid to strike a death blow but uses her charms to earn everyone’s trust, except for Maurizio’s father. Before A Star is Born (2018), it would’ve been impossible to imagine Gaga in a role like this—a multifaceted character in a Ridley Scott crime drama, headlining above Academy Award-winners and nominees galore. But she absolutely earns a top-level distinction, giving an awards-worthy performance that somehow skirts camp and deathly serious drama.
That line between the two, and between many other tones, is often crossed during the decades-spanning story. Every actor seems to be on a different page and every scene seems taken from a different screenplay. For the second Scott movie in a row, Driver plays the straight man to everyone else’s chaos swirling around him. He keeps the film from flying off into a storm. This role marks a departure from Driver, who for the longest time always brought a weirdness to his roles, even in something as sterile as the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Thankfully, Annette (2021) let him fly his freak flag earlier this year.
Of the myriad supporting roles—including Jack Huston as Domenico De Sole, consigliere to the Gucci family, and Salma Hayek as Giuseppina Auriemma, a soothsayer and close confidante of Patricia—Leto and Pacino stand out the most. Leto infuses the sad-sack, Fredo-esque Paolo with a real sense of empathy. Even under all that elderly makeup and cartoonish embellishments, he really makes you feel for this eternal screwup. Pacino isn’t given a lot to work with, but he’s Al Pacino, so he makes it work. He’s particularly effective during a scene after he learns of the biggest of Paolo’s many mistakes. The two make for an intriguing pair.
Scott’s impeccable craft can also be found, but for a time-hopping fashion industry crime tale, once might be expecting something more lavish. The scale and sheen isn’t even on the level of The Last Duel, despite the incredible costumes and goofy needle drops here and there.
The story, adapting fashion industry reporter Sara Gay Forden’s book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, jumps from scene to scene and year to year with near-total abandonment. This style works for some freewheeling true crime tales—often found in Martin Scorsese’s filmography—but the clashing aspects never solidify into a coherent whole here. I don’t know if it’s the editing by Claire Simpson or the script by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, but I lean toward the latter, especially considering Simpson’s work in The Last Duel was outstanding.
House of Gucci was a long-gestating movie which Scott has been linked to since at least 2006, and I can imagine it went through many iterations over the years. Whittling down a story with so many moving parts, over so many years, is perhaps destined to result in lots of issues. There are tonal and structural problems throughout House of Gucci. It should have either been an hour longer or cut down into the essentials of Patricia’s rise and fall, but the movie jumps from serious, grounded moments to camp goofiness. That said, the great performances and the dramatic beast of this amazing true-life story keeps you engaged. It’s not the sweeping crime epic it intended to be, but it’s a solid family crime drama that’s imminently watchable.
CANADA • USA | 2021 | 157 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
director: Ridley Scott.
writers: Becky Johnston & Roberto Bentivegna (story by Becky Johnstone; based on the novel ‘The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed’ by Sara Gay Forden).
starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek & Al Pacino.