She’s a handful.
The venomous interactions and destructive greed behind ornate walls, the blood sewn into the glamorous garments, a name ascending to the heavens before it disintegrates into the sun at the hands of its own gold-coated hubris. Avarice fuels avarice, humble beginnings aspiring to the apex of seductive abundance. The undeniable aesthetic appeal of it all, sunglasses shimmering in the warm Tuscan sun, smooth silk glistening, fine leather and soft wool adorning a seemingly unstoppable dynasty of people as cutthroat as they are suave. As the family begins to crumble, falling apart at the seams to sharp arrogance and unending betrayal, so does the film portraying it all, a disjointed and tonally dissonant mess unable to place any cogent criticism or infuse any necessary commentary into its stylish and extravagant exploration of the Gucci family.
Opening to Lady Gaga’s Patrizia Reggiani narrating a listless statement about the curse of the Gucci name as we watch Adam Driver’s Maurizio Gucci finish his morning coffee and bike down the street back home, Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci begins with a seemingly straight-laced and serious tone, placing a heavy cloud of anticipation above everything we’re about to witness. The blissful yet knowingly dark inflection of the opening scene is immediately upended by our formal introduction to Patrizia, soaked in dialogue and style so stilted it could only be an intentional attempt at camp, and for fans of Scott’s predilection to completely go against the grain and do whatever he wants to do, it’s easy to jump on board. The first act is so over the top and absurd in its presentation that it begins to feel almost like self-parody, but if you can reach its wavelength, there’s fun to be had.
The first hour is joyful cinematic decadence for those who came to watch Gaga chew on her dialogue and revel in her fashionable role, and it’s packed with all the expected silliness of the bickering one percent trying to decide how to best siphon cash from the pockets of their wealthy customer base. The performances all fit these expectations, the cast are all having a total blast leaning into the absurdity. Jared Leto, completely unrecognizable as the balding Paolo Gucci, delivers an enjoyably unhinged and manic performance as an obnoxiously privileged designer so consumed by his status as a Gucci that he can’t see his own remarkable lack of ability. The wild performances paired with the likes of sex scenes smash cutting to weddings or characters urinating on priceless Gucci artifacts grant a set of particular expectations for the direction of the film, but the film is also completely incapable of following through on what it sets up.
Often the issue with films based on true events is that you’re forced to work within the confines of specificity, unable to move the story in a direction that can match the stylization. Varying levels of success have been found in trying to work within these constraints, resulting in true story cinematic outings that range from truly awful to mesmerizing and brilliant, dependent entirely on how well the framing can maximize the output, but here we’re given a set of expectations that can’t be followed through on at all. The flashy fun and stylized absurdity is undermined by the tragedy of reality, and as the film progresses into its latter half it loses all the momentum it had built up, rushing to earn a catharsis from its finale that it hasn’t paid into at all.
As the tone shifts to serve the serious nature of the subject matter, the fun is lost and the weakness of it all comes crashing down, and the realization slowly dawns that what’s here is completely hollow and meaningless. What’s presented is a collection of terrible people doing terrible things, Patrizia becoming increasingly bitter, a lover scorned, Maurizio turning from meek lawyer to ruthless businessman, and everyone else trapped in the destructive orbit of the Gucci family constantly acting out of greedy self-interest, but the film is not interested in interrogating the meaning behind any of it. There’s a complete lack of emotional payoff to any character arc, and most of them lack any development that could even be construed as an arc at all. There is no indictment of greed or of the wealthy, no investigation into the psyche that drives people to such actions, no wider commentary on the capitalist society that has granted such immeasurable wealth and power to these people.
And so it falls flat and drags on, the overextended runtime limping towards an uninteresting endnote. The second half is riddled with a litany of characters and lightning speed narrative developments, money exchanging hands so fast it’s impossible to tell who has it and why, and the inclusion of unnecessary and offensively bad taste jokes sour any good will the film has earned. It is all the polar opposite of Scott’s recent release The Last Duel, which was sharply incisive, precisely structured and intelligently crafted. House of Gucci has no idea what it is, has nothing to say, and it’s cut to black results in little but a shrug. Weightless and inauthentic but marketing its star power for a profit, just like a knockoff Gucci handbag.