House of Gucci is scandalous family feud set in the world of haute couture… a sensational story ripe for a cinematic adaptation. Apparently Ridley Scott has been wanting to film this since the book of the same name by Sara Gay Forden was released in 2000, which centers on the brutal murder of the heir of the Gucci fortune, Maurizio Gucci, by his ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani.
The film opens with a shot of Maurizio (Adam Driver), the heir of the Gucci fortune, looking dapper in a gray wool suit and oversized Aviators sitting at a Roman cafe. He rides a bicycle on cobblestone streets to his office and about to climb up the steps … well, the story then rewinds back as to the pivotal moment where it all began. You could say Maurizio and Patrizia’s romance began with a ‘meet cute’ at a costume party … I really think it wasn’t so much Maurizio’s looks that attracted her, but her eyes lights up when he said his name… ‘it was a name that sounded so sweet…’ indeed, Gucci is synonymous with wealth, style and power. The whirlwind romance doesn’t begin immediately, but after a bit of stalking, even down to the library where Maurizio was doing his research for his law degree, he finally falls for her… hook line and sinker.
The first act establishes the two contrasting backgrounds of the two doomed lovers. Though not exactly poor (her stepfather actually owns a pretty successful trucking business), Patrizia always dreams of living the high life. Maurizio on the other hand, who’s been a Gucci all his life, seems unfazed by it all and was set on becoming a lawyer. In fact, he’s content with working at Patrizia’s trucking company when his snobbish, former silent-actor father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) cuts him out of the family for wanting to marry someone he deems unworthy and a gold digger. There’s a scene in the car with Patrizia where Maurizio scoffs at his dad for living in the past and that his grandpa Guccio Gucci who first started the company in Florence, started out as a bellhop London’s Savoy Hotel.
It’s Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) who actually courts Maurizio into the family business, preferring his favorite nephew over his ‘idiot’ son Paolo (Jared Leto) who just never measures up to his father’s standards. The two brothers own half of the Gucci shares each but they clearly have differing visions for the company. In one of the meet ups, Rodolfo insists on quality-over-quantity and adamantly refuses the lucrative globalization approach Aldo is keen on. ‘No malls’ Rodolfo says to Aldo who really just wants to milk the business for all its worth.
Scott captures the lavish lifestyle and glamour of the ultra rich family… the set pieces, clothes, etc. were meticulously designed and they’re fun to watch. At one point, Aldo throws a lavish party on the patio of his 16th Century historical palazzo overlooking Lake Como. It’s enough to get one intoxicated by the glam, glitzy, decadent life of the ultra rich… Patrizia is practically tipsy over being a part of the Gucci family.
The first act starts out quite well-paced, with a good sense of intrigue and fun. There’s even hilarious moments such as the loud wham-bam, jack-hammer style sex scene in a cramped office… the full-on campiness is quite amusing as it transitions to an elegant wedding in a church set to George Michael’s FAITH. I don’t mind the anachronism style, though those songs got me somewhat nostalgic and took me out of the movie a bit.
The fairy-tale life of being a Gucci queen seems to be within reach for Patrizia, especially after Maurizio inherits his father’s fortune following his death. I think the film would’ve been more effective if it knows just exactly which Gucci tale it wants to tell. Screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna starts out as focusing on the Maurizio/Patricia romance and their rise to power, which eventually tears them apart. As the film progresses, it concerns itself too much with the business side of the fashion label.
It loses its narrative focus about midway through, thanks to its kitchen-sink storytelling approach, trying to cram as many intersecting storylines from how the cheap fake products are devaluing the Gucci brand to Paolo’s grand ambition to start his own label. The film glaringly forgets about Patrizia early in the third act during its repeated narrative detours, as it was too preoccupied with the battle between father-vs-son-vs-cousin subplot in the race to lead the company. ‘It’s time to take out the trash…’ Patrizia says at one point. If only that’d be applied to the film itself, which could use a much tighter editing scissor to trim its fat.
The performances did keep me engaged though it’s pretty uneven. Even from its trailer, you know it’s Lady Gaga‘s movie. She totally owns it with her undeniable screen presence, there’s a gleam of madness in her eyes right from the moment she meets Maurizio and wants him all to herself. It helps that her character has the strongest arc in the film… she’s a driven woman who knows exactly what she wants and her narcissistic & overbearing personality clearly drives her husband away.
Adam Driver is mesmerizing as Maurizio, displaying a disquieting restlessness in a subtle yet effective performance. Despite Maurizio being underwritten, Driver manages to elevate the character and makes him more than one-dimensional. Plus he looks like a bazillion dollars in those sharp suits and the way he carries himself. There’s a hint of ruthless ambition seething underneath his calm demeanor, but there’s almost no transition from the mild-mannered, passive guy to a callous, spendthrift, power-hungry douchebag. Even the romance between him and his mistress Paola Franchi (Camille Cottin) has zero sparks and seems inconsequential despite its actual impact in the real story. Having seen how fiery Cottin is in the Call My Agent! series, this role is such a waste of her talents.
I was hoping for something indelible when Patrizia, in a blood-red ski outfit, sits down next to Paola and delivers threatening lines like ‘I subscribe to unconventional punishment.’ Disappointingly, the whole thing goes down in an unremarkable way. Same with the ‘Father, Son and House of Gucci’ scene when Paolo asks Patrizia if she can keep a secret… it looks so deliriously juicy in the trailer, but it doesn’t have the same impact in the film.
Speaking of which, Jared Leto in a fat suit and prosthetic makeup is too busy chewing the scenery to portray someone resembling a real person. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s done a good job here portraying the much-maligned Paolo who never gets to spread his creative wings. I just think he veers way over the top in his boorish performance that the character becomes a complete caricature. I suppose Leto often goes well above and beyond the call of duty whenever he portrays a real person, though I wonder if he does it for the attention more so than a dedication to his craft.
Interestingly enough, Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino seem to have similar approaches as the actors playing their respective sons… Irons is all sinister sneering with simmering rage like Driver, while Pacino hams it up with exaggerated hand gestures that reminds me a bit of his performance in Scent Of A Woman. Salma Hayek looks like she’s having more fun here than in Eternals in a small role as a a high-society psychic who becomes close friends with Patrizia. It’s quite ironic to see her as the least wealthy character given that Hayek’s husband actually owns the Gucci brand now.
As for the accents–everyone adopts a quasi Italian accent to varying degrees. I guess it’s to be expected as Scott never really concerns himself with getting the accents right for his characters. I mean, Russell Crowe’s Maximus is supposed to be a Spaniard in Gladiator but he speaks with more of a British accent, same with all the characters in The Last Duel who’re all supposed to be French.
In terms of direction, I have to admit that House of Gucci doesn’t feel like a Ridley Scott movie compared to his last film released this year, The Last of Duel. I’ve mentioned the script’s lack of focus, which leads to scenes feeling disjointed as some scenes get cut short as another 90s song starts again. Despite the fabulous European locations, the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski isn’t all that remarkable… I can’t even name a single one perfect shot from this movie. Neither is the music by Harry Gregson-Williams, all I remember are the 90s songs, I bet much of the large budget goes towards song licensing.
The style MVP is definitely costume designer Janty Yates in creating the 90s looks befitting of the fashion-centric movie. I enjoy seeing the various suits and outfits worn by the cast, especially Driver who undergoes quite a style transformation from the dweeby sweaters in his college years to the sharp bespoke suits as Maurizio gains more power and drowns in debt.
It’s a testament to this outlandish tale that I still find the movie quite immersive despite its flaws. I was absorbed in the wild, crazy ride throughout its 2 hours 37 min running time. It actually took me a few days to ‘recover’ from this story, as I watched all kinds of YouTube videos about the Gucci family following the film. It is so tragic that the once-unrivaled fashion empire that’s been created three quarter of a century ago ends up being destroyed by its own family rivalry. Truth really is stranger than fiction!
Given how sensational this story is, you’d think the film would’ve been more impactful and indelible. If it were a meticulously-tailored bespoke suit, House of Gucci seems to have all the right material to put it together. Alas, the execution (no pun intended) doesn’t quite measure up.
Have you seen HOUSE OF GUCCI? Well, what did YOU think?