What is it with Ridley Scott’s recent infatuation with the wealth, greed, power, and murder of family dynasties? Is this some kind of philosophical response to the existential themes of his recent Alien movies? Whatever the case, his star-studded, high-fashion drama House of Gucci is afflicted with many of the same problems as Scott’s dull film All the Money in the World. Despite looking great, this deep dive into the world of the devious rich isn’t so deep and when it’s over you’re left wondering why all of this money couldn’t have been spent on making it more fun?
There’s certainly the potential for a trashy, soapy melodrama with gigantic, flashy performances. But don’t let anyone convince you this is high-class camp. If only it WERE campy. Jared Leto, who plays the Gucci family’s resident Freido, a fat, balding, poorly-dressed Paolo Gucci, comes closest to the over-the-top antics the film should’ve aspired to. I mean, his “Italian” accent is Italian like Pizza Hut is Italian.
But that is not the style preferred by Scott, who shoots House of Gucci like a true-crime docuseries. The film begins on the day of Maurizio Gucci’s (Adam Driver) assassination in 1995, before jumping back in time to 1978 and the fateful day he met socialite Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) at a nightclub. He looks like a stiff, she’s there to party. Somehow they hit it off. Here’s the thing: he’s a Gucci, and an heir to the famous fashion house’s fortune. Patrizia’s family owns a business, too. A trucking business that may or may not be mobbed up. Certainly, Maurizio’s stuffy father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) has little respect for it. Or her.
Maurizio’s a smart guy and an aspiring lawyer. He has no desire to be part of the family business, which is run by his father and boisterous Uncle Aldo (Al Pacino). If Paolo weren’t such an idiot maybe they wouldn’t have pressed the issue, but Aldo and Patrizia, who married into the family despite Rodolfo’s wishes, see too much potential in Maurizio to let it go to waste. Despite fighting against it most of his life, Maurizio is lured by the money and the power that comes with the Gucci name, encouraged by Patrizia who has her own stake in all of this.
It’s interesting to watch an outsider like Patrizia enter the deep water with these sharks and learn to swim as they do. She’s got enough dirt under her nails to spot who the truly dangerous ones are and to see through any facades. For instance, she has her eye on family aide Domenico De Sole (Jack Huston), who knows everything and is always in the right place at the right time. Gaga could’ve hammed the role up more, but she’s good as a woman whose soul non-physical feature is desperation. Patrizia is at first desperate to marry Maurizio, then desperate to prove herself a true Gucci, and then desperate to get her husband back after he leaves her for another woman. There’s a great sequence where she gets fired up over the cheap knock-off Gucci that gets sold on the street corners, only to learn that Gucci actually endorses this crap and makes money off of it.
And that is sort of the point of House of Gucci. The whole idea of a family-run business is as cheap and fragile as Gucci’s promise of quality. Scott, along with writers Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, make it clear that family bonds can’t truly stand when so much money and power is on the line. Backstabbing is as much a Gucci way of life as designer handbags. But there just isn’t a ton of narrative momentum to speak of, and I found myself wishing someone like Adam McKay was behind the camera to give it the necessary zip.
That’s not to say House of Gucci is dull. The performances are too good for that, and there’s just something about watching pretty people dressed to the hilt, whether they’re in a board meeting or vacationing in the Alps. This is a gorgeous picture, and credit to costume designer Janty Yates for making everyone stand out individually. Patrizia always seems to be upstaging the others, whether she’s trying to or not, while Maurizio’s reserved look definitely gets more intimidating as his ego grows.
A lot of how you feel about House of Gucci will depend on your take on Jared Leto as Paolo, the famil clown. Personally, I feel like Leto is always terrible, even when he’s “good”, and is like someone who wandered in from a different movie. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Dallas Buyers Club or Suicide Squad, Leto is on a different wavelength than everyone else. And that’s definitely the case here, too. His performance as Paolo has upset the man’s family for being so ridiculous, and it’s hard to disagree. But could it be that he sees what this movie truly should have been and is trying to pull everyone else down to that level? The only other person who sorta gets it is Salma Hayek as Patrizia’s personal psychic, Pina. It’s as silly as it sounds.
When House of Gucci comes to its inevitably bloody conclusion, we’re left wondering what the heck was the point? If there’s one major failure it’s that we never get a clear idea of Patrizia’s motivations for hiring a hitman to kill her ex-husband. Was she just a golddigger the whole time? Was she just a scorned woman who couldn’t let her man be with another? We never really know. Sure, it’s sad to realize that no actual Gucci family members are involved with the brand now, but Scott seems unsure how to give us a reason to care about it. What he does give us fits in the uncertain way those cheap Gucci replicas do. House of Gucci gives the air of being high standard, but worn too long and it starts to come apart at the seams.
House of Gucci opens in theaters on November 24th.