House of Gucci
2021, R, 157 min. Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Irons, Camille Cottin, Reeve Carney.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 26, 2021
The one question to ask about House of Gucci is – what kind of film was Ridley Scott trying to make? Sometimes, it feels like he's aiming for the quiet seething power dynamics of The Godfather. Other times, it's the chaotic backbiting of Casino. Instead, he's fabricated a shapeless mess of drab designs and duller colors, then draped it over an ensemble that seems lost within its baggy contours. You can tell they're moving around under there somewhere, but it's unclear what they're trying to do.
It's arguably a successor to one of his greater late-career successes, 2017's All the Money in the World. After all, both are mired in the moral murk of the insanely wealthy: then, the Gettys, now, the Guccis.
It's a matter of historical record. In 1995, Maurizio Gucci – scion of the Gucci clan and the man that had dragged their fashion label out of elite obscurity and back into being actually fashionable – was gunned down by hitmen in Milan. The client who paid for his murder? His ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani (who would hate being called that: She was a Gucci, even if only by marriage). In House of Gucci, Scott and screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna (adapting by Sara Gay Forden's 2001 book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed) focus on the couple's fairy-tale romance-turned-deadly liaison, and how they both revolutionized Gucci and tore it apart.
As is the way of such films, the facts are often played with, fast and loose, to increase the drama. But the selling point is really the cast, with Adam Driver as Maurizio and Lady Gaga as Patrizia. Or something like them. Like the bootleg Guccis that flood New York while the company crumbles like their ancestral estates, they're something like the originals, but good luck making a matching ensemble. Driver plays the party boy businessman as an awkward academic, making his transition to hardnosed wheeler-dealer erratic and implausible. Meanwhile Gaga goes as high-end hammy as prosciutto di Pietraroja, sometimes a little Gina Lollobrigida, sometimes a little Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinnie. Her Patrizia is sufficiently conniving, cunning, and aspirational, but that's all there is to her.
It's not just in how the film tries to tie this unlikely duo together that the seams start shredding. Al Pacino is low-key as uncle Aldo, with whom Patrizia pushes Maurizio into war, while Jeremy Irons is as fragile as old lace as Rodolfo, Maurizio's faded film star father. No one is bad, but nothing goes together, like mixing stripes and polka dots.
Maybe it's all summed up by Jared Leto as a woefully historically inaccurate version of cousin Paolo Gucci. Why Scott cast him as the podgy, balding buffoon rather than as the equally razor-cheekboned designer Tom Ford is anyone's guess, especially when Leto clearly spent hours every day in the makeup chair to emerge, unrecognizable, as an absurd caricature. For some unknowable reason, Scott must have been OK with this.
At least Leto was clearly having fun, relishing the inherent goofiness of the part as written: But nobody else (save occasionally Pacino at his most deadpan) is in that movie. Maybe it could all have been saved if there was any visual panache on display. Maybe if Scott had leaned into the aesthetic of the era (communicated instead solely by heavy-handed needle drops). Maybe if he'd shot it like a high-budget Eighties soap, or a Technicolor drama, or made oblique references to the ultimate tale of coolly aristocratic Italian malfeasance, Luchino Visconti's Il Gattopardo. Instead, there's a muted flatness that echoes the unengaging and episodic nature of the script, which suddenly terminates, like someone added a cuff to an altered pair of pants without any eye to the tailoring.
House of Gucci isn't aggressively bad, but it is undeniably tedious, threadbare, and unengaging. Scott proved this year with The Last Duel (another period piece about the violent acts of the European upper crust) that he's still a great director. But here he is just the wrong filmmaker for the material.