A film review by Craig J. Koban December 8, 2021

HOUSE OF GUCCI jj
 

2021, R, 157 mins.

Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani  /  Adam Driver as Maurizio Gucci  /  Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci  /  Jeremy Irons as Rodolfo Gucci  /  Al Pacino as Aldo Gucci  /  Salma Hayek as Giuseppina "Pina" Auriemma  /  Camille Cottin as Paola Franchi  /  Jack Huston as Domenico De Sole

Directed by Ridley Scott  /  Written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, based on the book by Sara Gay Forden

On paper, HOUSE OF GUCCI should have been a cinematic home run.  

It boasts the typically authoritative and acclaimed veteran director in Ridley Scott (coming off of a recent career high with THE LAST DUEL) at the helm, and flanking him is a relative smorgasbord of decorated Oscar nominated talent.  And on top of that, this true life crime drama focuses on one of the seminal and most recognizable families in the fashion industry in Gucci and the power play struggles that existed between its members that tragically led to one of them being murdered in cold blood and another being sent to prison for it.  

This all should have made HOUSE OF GUCCI must-see event film viewing and a qualitative smash, but after a reasonably enthralling first half, Scott somehow loses his way with the sheer enormity of the material that might have been best left for a long form TV mini-series.  That, and its weird tonal inconsistencies and an unavoidable made-for-TV vibe ultimately hurts what could have been another masterful turn for the 83-year-old filmmaker. 

Thankfully, there are a few saving graces in HOUSE OF GUCCI, namely another solid performance turn from Lady Gaga, coming off of her lauded work in A STAR IS BORN.  Here she plays Patrizia Reggiani, and as the film opens in the late 70s we see working a relatively lowly job for her father's trucking company.  On one fateful night at a local party she meets Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver, the film's other solid acting anchor), whom she initially mistakes for a bartender until she realizes that he's a Gucci and heir to the entire fashion industry empire.  Maurizio and Patrizia begin dating, and during said time he plainly reveals to her that his real passion is to become a lawyer and that he has next to no interest in fashion design or taking over the company when his sickly father in Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) finally passes on.  He does, however, have a juicy 50 per cent stake in the company, which plants a seed of interest in Patrizia.  She seems to love this socially awkward young man, but the prospect of dollar sign looms heavily over her conscience. 

When Maurizio takes his new girlfriend to meet his father he appears outwardly polite to her, but deep down smells a rat.  He sternly warns his son to do whatever he needs to with her and then dump her.  He also definitely warns against marrying what he sees as a ruthless gold digger.  If Maurizio weds Patrizia, then Rodolfo will cut his son out of his inheritance.  Being blindly in love, Maurizio exchanges wedding vows with Patrizia against his father's explicit warnings and ultimatums, and early on they seem like a healthy and happy couple.  Patrizia does gain a Gucci family ally in Maurizio's Uncle Aldo (a wily, scenery chewing Al Pacino), who rules over half of the family fortune and business.  When Patrizia becomes pregnant she uses that as leverage to lure Aldo to her side in a power play move against Rodolfo.  Aldo allows her deeper into the family fold, introducing her to his bumbling failure of a son in Paolo (an unrecognizable Jared Leto, definitely more on him later), who wants to be a designer for his family in the worst way despite not having any talent.  Needless to say, a dying Rodolfo decides to make peace with his estranged son, elated that he's about to be a father.  He decides to put Maurizio back into his will for that half-stake in his company, but he forgets to sign legal papers to make it so before he dies.  In swoops the scheming Patrizia, who fakes her dead father-in-law's signature on the document, and this is just the beginning of a long series of dark and dirty deeds for this woman as far as this family is concerned. 

 

 

HOUSE OF GUCCI should not be mistaken as an accurate historical document, to say the least.  It takes multiple liberties with Sara Gay Forden's book that chronicled this family and all of the sordid details that eventually led to (no need for a spoiler warning here, I guess) Maurizio's assassination.  Changes have been made to time and place for the purposes of streamlining this family dynasty's story into a mostly manageable film length.  The main focal point of intrigue here comes from Patrizia coming from mostly humble beginnings that later married into this unfathomably wealthy family and tried as only she could to assume some sort of control over its biggest heavy hitters.  One of the bright areas of HOUSE OF GUCCI occurs early on with the meet-cute between Maurizio and Patrizia, their ensuing relationship and marriage, and then later her morphing into a cunningly manipulative shark that wants her piece of the family fortune via any means necessary, even if it means coercing her trusting husband, falsely becoming friends with Uncle Aldo and his dim witted nephew, and, yes, committing fraud and eventually conspiracy for murder.  Family rivalries get predictably heated, which culminated in Maurizio divorcing his once loving bride, which tragically boiled over to her hiring thugs to kill her ex-husband in 1995.  She went on to be convicted and was sent to prison for nearly thirty years.  So manic in her delusions of grandeur, she insisted on being referred to as a "Gucci" during the trial, despite all of her hellish wrongdoing. 

The initially promising and intoxicating screenplay by Becky Johnson and Roberto Bentivenga makes Maurizio and Patrizio's union one of grand, layered deceptions and an escalating sensation that only bad things will come of it.  At the center of this is HOUSE OF GUCCI's two best performances by both Gaga and Driver, who command tangible heat and chemistry throughout and do an impeccable job of selling the origins and macabre evolution of this doomed union.  Driver (who played a scheming and lecherous French squire to great effect in Scott's THE LAST DUEL) is also outstanding here in his mostly low key and understated performance as his Italian fashion godfather-to-be.  I liked how he played Maurizio as someone that's uncomfortable within his own skin and place within his family; the last thing he ever wanted to do was run Gucci, which he tries to displace himself from, that is until he met Patrizia and the rest, mournfully, is history.  Gaga is the real firecracker foil to the reserved Driver here, who has a tricky assignment of playing Patrizia early on as a mousy and awestruck middle class girl that's overwhelmed by the sheer scope of her involvement with Gucci that then succumbs to becoming a hostile tempered, ferociously ambitious, and glamour/fortune hunting hound in heels.  Gaga manages to walk a delicate line playing this lecherous woman that could have descended into high vamp camp, but she's so commandingly intense in the part that those types of concerns evaporate pretty quickly.  Her turn in HOUSE OF GUCCI proves that her Oscar nominated performance in A STAR IS BORN was no one-hit-wonder fluke. 

I also liked both Irons and Pacino in the supporting roles as the sickly patriarch and kindly, but naive uncle in this house of cards family empire (Pacino seems to be having a ball playing the zestful Aldo, an Irons can ooze venomous spite in his sleep and has a brilliant moment unleashing a sarcastic verbal assault at his nephew Paolo's complete detachment from reality).  Then there's Leto's Paolo,  which I'll just have to come right out and say that the actor gives one of the most distracting performances here in many a moon.  Buried under pounds of makeup and what I'm assuming is either a fat body suit (or his own weight gain) while sporting a cartoonishly broad Italian accent, Leto is in such aggressive camera mugging/method form that he unintentionally nearly capsizes the good performance will from the other actors.  That's not to say that this isn't a compellingly committed piece of performance immersion, bur rather that Leto doesn't seem have any idea what kind of film he's occupying.  Paolo is a sad sack and hopelessly incompetent man through and through that's pathetically driven by making his family respect him, but fails miserably in the process.  This potentially could have been a fascinating figure of interest here, but Leto plays him in such maximum overdrive mode that it seems to belong more in an AUSTIN POWERS-esque comedy than a Ridley Scott crime drama.  Leto has given tour de force performances before, but this isn't it.  He's so woefully over the top here that he not only forgot to dial his performance down several notches, but he also just threw the dial out and said to hell with it. 

Maybe Scott is partially to blame for Leto's egregious missteps and didn't reign him in accordingly.  It's really quite odd, seeing as he got such solid performances from most of the rest of the cast.  Further to that, Scott has a technical field day with HOUSE OF GUCCI and proves - yet again - that he might be one of the finest directors ever at transplanting viewers into multiple periods of our recent and distant past.  Very few working filmmakers have such a stark career variety; last month he quarterbacked a film that took place in Middle Ages France and now with HOUSE OF GUCCI he's leading the charge of a crime drama set in high ashion during the 70s through 90s.  That's impressive.  With monumental assists from Arthur Max's luscious production design and Janny Yate's sumptuous period costuming, HOUSE OF GUCCI does a remarkable job of encapsulating the hypnotizingly decadent (and sometimes excruciatingly materialistic) milieu of this disgustingly rich family.  Scott, as I've always mentioned in my reviews, simply can't make a bad looking film.  He's like a kid in the proverbial candy store as HOUSE OF GUCCI migrates and jet sets around from Rome, Milan, New York, and the Alps.   

Sadly, some solid performances, early moments of scripting intrigue, and, yes, a gorgeous looking film can't make up for HOUSE OF GUCCI's larger missteps.  Scott seems atypically undisciplined when it comes to arriving at a unifying tone with this dense material.  I think he's aiming for historical verisimilitude, but too much of his film awkwardly seesaws between lurid soap opera shenanigans (mixed in with wink-wink camp) and crafting a dark and dreary crime melodrama that highlights the perversity of Patrizia's multiple sins later in life.  Maybe this all would have worked better as a black comedy (like what I, TONYA did from a few years back, which also was a crime caper about a highly dysfunctional family, albeit vastly lower on the economic and social/cultural scale).  The first half of HOUSE OF GUCCI is generally gripping and shows Scott in decent command over the material, but that all evaporates quickly in the film's subsequent acts as Maurizio assumes control of his papa's business and Patrizia starts maliciously scheming like a madwoman.  And for a film that's over two and a half hours, it's pretty astounding how little of this running time is dished out to Patrizia's conspiratorial scheme to murder her husband and the trial itself.  It's scandalous that this trial and the aftermath merely gets a few minutes of attention here, which is followed by obligatory pre-end credit title cards that explains what happened to everyone.  Like...really?  That's it??? 

I'm also not entirely sure what HOUSE OF GUCCI wants us to actually think about Patrizia.  There's the strangely off-putting manner of how the script almost tries to make us sympathize with this woman's unforgivable actions.  I don't believe that Scott is trying to short-change Patrizia's ill deeds and dangerous deceptions, but HOUSE OF GUCCI spends far too little of its 157 minutes plunging into the psychology of her worst crime against her husband and is pretty feeble at establishing motive (outside of her obvious greed and gluttonous yearning for power).  Ultimately, this is a film that simply doesn't have enough gas in the tank to successfully make it past the finish line.  HOUSE OF GUCCI has been a passion project for Scott for over twenty years, and in some instances it shows.  His trademark visual showmanship is here in abundance, and Gaga and Driver utterly own this film and do what they can with it, but HOUSE OF GUCCI simply doesn't leave a sizeable imprint on viewers.   Scott also doesn't fully harness and dig deep into the shameless excesses and vapid sensationalism of this family empire and its untimely undoing; it's like a multi-million dollar budgeted telenovela as opposed to a gripping, Shakespearian themed family crime story tragedy.  

HOUSE OF GUCCI has got the look, but very little style and substance.  

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