Whether you’re a massive fan of Ridley Scott or not, you have to admire his filmmaking commitment. Sure, he’s a hit and miss director. For every Gladiator, Blade Runner or Alien, you get The Counsellor or Exodus: Gods and Kings. There are more wins in his filmography than losses. But the appeal in his directing comes from those wild swings he takes in his projects. Because no matter the genre, the subject, the tone, the style or its dramatic effect, there’s a guaranteed conversation to be had.
The latest in that Marmite firing line is House of Gucci – a true crime, family saga on the fall of the Gucci brand as a family-owned business into a publicly owned, corporate entity. And like all good stories, it’s filled with greed, jealousy, betrayal and eventually murder.
The film comes as no surprise with our growing fascination with the rich and famous. With glossy filters and extravagant lifestyles, it’s a glimpse into another world that’s often fantasised yet rarely attainable (for some). In its form of escapism, it’s a chance to live vicariously whilst dreaming what a fraction of that wealth could do to improve our lives. But as mentioned in Nina Metz’s brilliant article for the Chicago Tribune, rarely do those interests explore the actual inner workings of that income. No one is a hero in this story, with just an out of touch acceptance from the rest of society that allows the rich to operate by their own rules, protects their interests while the money churns and never sleeps.
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Scott is not reinventing the wheel here, but it’s why House of Gucci is strangely captivating despite being a wildly chaotic mess of a film. Like a spiritual antithesis, it bears similarity with his 2017’s crime saga All the Money in the World. Their meticulous insight into the accumulated wealth of a Familia dynasty is more of an opulent examination into how corruptible and morally bankrupt their worlds are. And it takes outsiders – the female characters in both examples – to expose the vain and insecure madness behind it all. The difference is intentional value: one is about saving a teenager’s life with a stubborn old man who refuses to yield an inch in parting with his fortune. The other is a social climber who wants it all.
It begins with a chance conversation at a party. Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) orders a drink, mistakenly thinking Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) is a bartender. It’s played out innocently enough until she realises she’s speaking to the heir of the Gucci empire. What follows is the beginning of a whirlwind romance (through stalking and persistence) as Patrizia hooks her way into the Gucci lifestyle through charm, decadence, and the naivety of her future husband to be. And throughout the documented years, it’s the power play moves she makes against the family that threatens the Gucci legacy.
It’s Scott’s ode to The Godfather, with Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna’s script more invested in the power dynamics and struggles of its characters wanting more of everything (more wealth, more respect, more power, and more control) than Gucci’s appeal as a fashion line and product. When it works, it’s a director in his element. The lavish, high fashion couture of the era, its killer soundtrack (featuring David Bowie, Donna Summer and Eurythmics) and a sublime visual aesthetic thanks to Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography, add to Ridley’s love for the details. But its success is how most of its star-studded cast understood the assignment.
Lady Gaga undoubtedly steals the show that will most likely garner award attention. It’s a transformative performance, embracing and committing to Patrizia’s power-hungry greed and obsession with the Gucci brand. And the key here is not trying to empathise with her – there’s nothing redeemable about her actions. But the film highlights the triggers for her descent. In one illustrated scene, she discovers that markets have been selling counterfeit Gucci knockoffs. She believes it’s diluting the brand. Al Pacino’s Aldo Gucci (getting the best, meme-worthy dialogue in minimal screen time) lays down the law. “Gucci is what I say it is” – a nuanced remark which not only reminds Patrizia of her place, but how she may be a Gucci by name, but not actually a Gucci. Gaga’s prowess in this scene elevates the film’s class.
Driver’s performance counterbalances Patrizia’s 100mph eye for ambitious extravagance. It doesn’t make him innocent, eventually succumbing to the same trappings and callousness that status and wealth brings. But his viewpoint as a Gucci is more how he initially runs from being one, finding happiness when his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) disapproves of his relationship with the woman he would eventually marry and away from the family drama. But like Gaga’s, his transformation is subtle and understated as he’s slowly pulled back into the family business, which adds weight down the line when his relationship begins to crumble.
But when it doesn’t work, watching House of Gucci is like stepping into a fever dream. You laugh at the absurdity as Scott dials up the Italian soap opera gloss, atrocious accents, and caricature eccentricities to eleven. In Jared Leto’s case (who made choices in this film), playing the delusional Paulo who believes he’s a revolutionary designer in the family, his ‘Italian’ sounded he took his method acting lessons from Nintendo’s Mario. But his distracting propensity to overact in scenes always finds him in a different film from the rest of the cast.
And it’s hard to take it seriously when its tonal direction is all over the place, a cross between a serious crime drama and an over-the-top camp romp. It’s not helped by its editing, never developing a real flow or energy to its scenes, lacking a cohesive picture it desperately seeks. Perhaps its disjointed shifts would have benefited as a TV miniseries where Ryan Murphy has made dramatised scandal work in American Crime Story. Because at 2.5 hours, House of Gucci rarely commits to either ideology, which results in a slog of a film.
Somewhere, buried within the chaos, there’s ‘a method to the madness’ to Scott’s work, which flirts between abysmal and greatness. House of Gucci won’t be loved and adored by everyone. At this point in his career, he probably doesn’t care. But in a film that’s all about ‘Mo Money, Mo Problems’, it’s car-crash entertainment.
House of Gucci is out now in Cinemas.