*** out of ****
(for strong language, some sexual content, brief nudity and violence)
Released: November 24, 2021
Runtime: 157 minutes
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Salma Hayek
In October 2021, director Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel felt like the movie equivalent of homework. One month later with House of Gucci, Ridley Scott is having a lot of fun.
When a movie embraces kitschy melodrama, it’s often best to just go all the way with an “It’s So Bad It’s Good” abandon. But when a film weaves excess with restraint (perhaps in the attempt to be taken seriously), a compromise can be felt and the result a tonal mess that pulls its punches.
House of Gucci is a rare example of something that goes to both extremes yet somehow succeeds. Ridley Scott doesn’t have to pick a lane because he drives so deftly in each, and knows exactly when to cross the median.
As he, his cast, and collaborators walk a fine line between camp and credibility, House of Gucci becomes a real-life Corleone soap opera for the Fashion World. Its most notorious element is a professional hit job, but Scott wisely (and thankfully) doesn’t reduce this gaudy, sordid saga to a familiar True Crime formula.
Instead, he delivers on the title House of Gucci by telling a dynastic story about a family and their empire — sort of Gucci by way of The Godfather — and how it all went sideways when an ambitious interloper married into it with malevolent designs of her own
Murder-for-Money may be the lasting legacy of this ill-fated family, but here it’s almost a climactic afterthought. Scott eschews the more conventional framework of a courtroom drama driven by flashbacks to escalating betrayal and vengeance. He’s more interested in delving into the iconic fashion empire and its defining crossroads in the 1980s, when the succession mantle from Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) was up for grabs.
Enter Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), Aldo’s nephew, and his new wife Patrizia (Lady Gaga), a bourgeois commonor whose father’s business was a blue collar truck line. As she becomes seduced by the possibilities of the Gucci brand, Patrizia transforms Maurizio’s own ambitions from wanting nothing to do with his family to becoming a stealth tactician for ultimate power.
What makes this telling so intriguing is that Patrizia isn’t a gold-digger from the jump. She’s genuinely happy with Maurizio as they work for her father. Her evolution, then, is slow, gradual, and insidious. Becoming a Lady Macbeth figure is far more fascinating than simply being an innate schemer.
She’s also a bit kooky (enter Salma Hayek’s mystic fortune teller as an influential figure), which makes for a compelling portrait that Lady Gaga eats up, spits out, and absolutely relishes. She lays it on thick but with conviction, and her instincts are exactly right.
Scott spares no expense in transporting us back to the 1980s and the world of Italian high fashion. He doesn’t simply recreate the era; he lives and luxuriates in all its bacchanalia. The ensemble is equally glamorous and garish, with an unrecognizable Jared Leto (buried under convincing prosthetics) taking it to 11 as the lovingly eccentric but misguided Paolo Gucci. The whole makeup transformation is basically a stunt, but it’s a fun, silly one, and Leto makes it work.
Are these Italian personas broad and over-the-top? Yes (except for Adam Driver and Jeremy Irons, as Maurizio’s father), but they’re not caricatured. They’re sincere (if theatrical) and, in their own satirical way, emphasize how divorced from reality and conscience people can become when they live inside a bubble of indulgence — and how that’s not only comic, but tragic.
For over two hours, House of Gucci never feels like it’s actually building towards what it’s building towards, and that’s a smart tack by Scott. His perspective is always in the immediacy of the present, never foreshadowing the inevitable.
That immediacy allows these transformations to remain gradual, subtle and surprising, even in their flamboyant portrayals. And that dichotomy — between goofiness and gravity — is what makes House of Gucci so mesmerizing.