Movie Review: House of Gucci
Watching House of Gucci reminded me of the Dynasty and Dallas rage during the late-1970s. Seeing the rich and powerful backstabbing each with while wallowing in the misery of their own doing makes for gloriously addictive entertainment.
Bloated barons with everything — born into great privilege, intoxicated with vast fortunes, subjects of mass envy, masters of manipulation, and magicians of make-believe — are just as wretchedly despicable as the rest of us. Maybe, even more so.
House of Gucci, a film based on the best-selling book of the same title by Sara Gay Forden, tells the true story of the downfall of the famous Tuscan (later Milanese) family, a speedy deterioration spurred by a generational shift from the elder builder-visionaries of the vast fashion empire to those who are destined and doomed to inherit it. The lynchpin of implosion gets pulled by Patricia Reggiani (Gucci), a working-class Milano firecracker played to perfection by Lady Gaga who artfully stalks, then courts, then finally marries the aloof Maurizio Gucci, grandson of Gucci’s founder. Fissures within the family were already fracturing the company. Once her fingers become encrusted with Tiffany diamonds, the fragile fissures are about to split apart at the seams, obliterating the lives and relationships of all those connected in any way to Gucci. If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then power rooted in fashion royalty provides the perfect foundation for cinematic spectacle.
Credit director Ridley Scott for letting the predictable story take its full course, allowing the stellar star-studded cast to milk every scene to near full-camp excess, and staying out of the way with distraction or gimmickry. This is a movie carried entirely by multiple over-the-top performances. These characters might seem excessively animated, but hey, it’s Italian fashion moguls we’re watching here. We’re willingly strapped into our seats by Gucci belts, eager to enjoy the ride.
Lady Gaga has revealed impressive acting chops in her two films, so far. The eclectic singer-songwriter-pianist-stage performer proved Oscar-worthy a few years ago in the remake of A Star is Born. However, the role of a real-life Italian diva protagonist displaying a gambit of emotions and self-transformation proves a far more formidable challenge. Despite Stefani Germanotta’s Italian-American roots, her accent is a mess. At times, Gaga sounds more Russian or Hungarian than Milanese. Think Zsa Zsa Gabor. But we’ll mostly forgive this flaw because the rest of her characterization is so joyous.
Adam Driver plays things mostly straight in his role as the easily-manipulated heir to the Gucci empire who despite his intelligence and charms is hopelessly overmatched by his surroundings. In a cast of scene-stealing screen legends, Driver actually delivers more of a punch with subtlety. With this character, less is more.
The Gucci Family’s two patriarchs are brothers played by Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. Both film legends deliver the gold, and then some. This is Pacino’s best performance in years, while Irons once again reminds us why we’d so much like to see him far more onscreen. Pacino, in particular, seems born to play this character. In a nest of vipers, he’s the only sympathetic person in the story.
However, the most memorable acting argosy here is Jared Leto, the Oscar-winning standout who somehow makes even Lady Gaga and Al Pacino seem like cheap flea-market knockoffs on this motley thespian carousel. Playing the deliciously eccentric Paolo Gucci, who was excluded entirely from decision-making and died in poverty, Leto steals every scene he’s in. Ridiculed throughout his life for no apparent reason other than the inherent cruelty of his own family members, Paolo lacks the artistic talent of his designer peers and has none of the business wisdom necessary to manage a fashion dynasty. But it’s not for lack of passion or rightful attempts to claim his position on the throne. Part pompous and part pathetic — Leto provides some scant comic relief in a film that desperately needed more scenes with laughs. As wonderful as Leto is to enjoy, he deserved a few more punchlines. even if he’s the running joke within the cast.
House of Gucci has garnered mixed reviews from film critics. It’s a movie fraught with possibilities and filled with near misses. It’s also about 25 minutes too long. Clocking in at 2:35, two hours would have been sufficient enough time to tell this story, though we can certainly appreciate the added bonus of so many exceptional actors trying to outdo one another onscreen, much like the real-life people they play. Call it a guilty pleasure, but I’m glad to watch the added filler when we get to enjoy Gaga, Pacino, Leto, and company.
In the end, we discover there are no more Gucci’s left at Gucci. It’s Gucci in name only. They’re all gone, either dead or bought out by a corporate conglomeration that might as well be manufacturing and marketing beer or tires. Today, Gucci is nothing more than an empty handbag, albeit a very expensive one.
For those who enjoyed the excesses of Dynasty and Dallas, House of Gucci more than delivers and ultimately satisfies. For many others, the lives of these rich Italian eccentrics will become a tedious bore very quickly.
I give House of Gucci a 6.5 grade on a 10 scale.