One thing you absolutely have to give to director Ridley Scott, screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski? They all certainly went for it in the making of House of Gucci.
Now was “it” worth pursuing? That’s a more complicated answer.
The story of Gucci’s setting as a family empire begins with a chance encounter between Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) and scion Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). Before long, Maurizio swears off his family to love and marry Patrizia. While coming from a comparatively less wealthy—and perhaps more legally dubious—family, Patrizia seems to give Maurizio what he needs. The life they build, free of his family’s influence, suits him just fine.
That comes to an end when Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino), Maurizio’s uncle, decides that his brother Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) is being silly about Maurizio’s choices. He invites the newlyweds to his 70th birthday and proceeds to pitch woo at them. He wants them back in the fold and is plenty happy to offer his nephew an entirely made-up position in Gucci corporate to do it. Meanwhile, Aldo’s son Paolo (Jared Leto under prosthetics and gobs of makeup because balding, overweight actors don’t exist) remains forever on the outside looking in. As Aldo puts it, Paolo’s an idiot, so he can’t be in power. However, he is also Aldo’s idiot, so he has to be kept hanging around.
From there, well, tons more happens. We don’t tend to complain about running times around these parts, but Gucci feels every bit as long and meandering as its 158-minute running time would suggest. It’s less of a plot and more of a series of occurrences, particularly in the middle third. By the time we get around to a climax filled with greed, divorce, desperation, arrogance, and murder, it has become more than a little difficult to care about what happens to the Gucci family or their business.
The House does offer some pleasures, though. Visually, it’s gorgeous, befitting its subject matter. Scott and Wolski fetishize nearly everything that isn’t human that crosses the lens from vehicles to homes to landscapes. That makes a great contrast with the almost unpleasant ways it frames all of its characters. Their world is a beautiful one, the filmmaking suggests, if not for these people blighting the objects and spaces.
The needle drops are delightful, although used far better in the film’s excellent trailers. Additionally, if you are someone who tries to line up chronology with musical choice, the selections will prove deeply distracting. They’re close enough to suggest an evoking of the year, but none actually lineup. The so close yet so far away nature of it happens so frequently that it tempts one to suggest that Monica Zierhut and the rest of the film’s Music Department is actively trolling the audience.
As the trailer implies, Gaga goes full out for her role as Patrizia, the woman who, the more she drinks from the Gucci fountain, the increasingly driven she is to command the whole thing. After her grounded performance in A Star is Born, it’s a kick to see her go so theatrical and commit so hard. Sadly, after seeming to be almost certainly the film’s lead character, she more or less disappears from the plot for 45 minutes. When she comes back, she’s as good, but the movie has gotten so mired in blandness that there’s nothing she can do.
Leto also goes wildly theatrical in a performance that’s unlikely to please as many people as Gaga’s work. It feels calibrated to the movie the trailers promised us. That’s not, however, the movie Gucci ends up being so he feels cartoonishly vulgar and without purpose. If you can forget about how this objectively handsome man is wearing literal pounds of makeup and is acting in a completely different picture, it’s a bit of fun. But that’s a lot to ask people to forget.
Pacing and the lack of any identifiable lead eventually prove too much for the film to overcome. As a viewer, one can’t invest in the plot machinations because, too often, who is interesting or commanding the screen disappears with little fanfare. Those plot machinations frequently dragging especially, again, in the middle third, make for the killing blow.
The story of how a dynasty falls due to self-satisfaction, greed, and an outside catalyst is undeniably fascinating. However, Gucci doesn’t make choices, so the central vein of storytelling ends up too complicated and interrupted. That the most exciting portion of the film, the first 45 minutes or so, primarily doesn’t concern the intrafamilial machinations and manipulations, does not speak well to the movie’s execution.
As a film fan, you repeatedly hear that viewers would rather an ambitious failure than a mediocre success. House of Gucci extensively tested that theory for this writer. I’m willing to bet it’ll do the same for most of the audience, too.