House of Gucci lacks the extravagance and flair of its real-life inspirations

click to enlarge The Guccis living the lifestyles of the rich and ruthless.
The Guccis living the lifestyles of the rich and ruthless.

As is customary for movies inspired by true stories, Ridley Scott's House of Gucci ends with a series of title cards detailing what happened to its real-life subjects following the events depicted in the film. These title cards note, with a sense of irony and regret, that no one from the storied Gucci family is currently involved in the fashion house that still bears their name.

But even after nearly three hours of watching various Guccis make and break business deals and personal alliances, the movie has given no sense of why it might be a tragedy for the Gucci family to have exited the fashion industry. There is exactly one moment that demonstrates a Gucci family member's contribution to fashion, and it's an offhand remark from Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons) about his design of an iconic Gucci scarf.

Rodolfo is a relatively minor character in House of Gucci, which is primarily about the volatile relationship between Rodolfo's son Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and his wife, Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga). The movie opens with Maurizio's 1995 murder, although director Ridley Scott obscures the incident enough that anyone coming to the movie without knowledge of the actual events might be confused about what exactly the story is building toward.

Scott and screenwriter Becky Johnston (working from Sara Gay Forden's nonfiction book with the same title) then flash back to 1978, when Maurizio and Patrizia first meet at a party. Despite being the scion of a wealthy and influential family, Maurizio is bookish and unassuming, immersed in his studies to become a lawyer and disdainful of his family's extravagance. He's drawn to Patrizia in part because of her own unassuming circumstances, but the widening of her eyes when he first mentions his last name makes it clear that she aims higher than to be a lawyer's wife.

Driver plays Maurizio as so reserved and accommodating that it's tough to tell what his true feelings are, both about Patrizia and about the Gucci empire that she quickly thrusts him back into. Maurizio's flamboyant uncle Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) is the one who really runs the business, and he has no time for his idiot son Paolo (Jared Leto), instead focusing on Maurizio as the heir to the company, always under Patrizia's guidance.

As the opening indicates, things are going to fall apart for Maurizio and Patrizia, but the movie takes its time getting there, playing out as a shapeless series of incidents with little connective tissue. Patrizia pushes Maurizio to make underhanded maneuvers that cut out his family members, and he goes along with her until he doesn't, but neither decision carries much clear motivation. They appear to be genuinely in love, to a degree that their eventual animosity comes off as abrupt. Even the chronology is opaque, making it tough to gauge how much time has passed between scenes, except by Patrizia's changing hairstyles.

Those hairstyles all look fabulous, as do the costumes (the Gucci company cooperated fully with the production) and the locations. Scott is a consummate craftsman who can create brilliant work with the right script, but no amount of professional polish can compensate for the meandering narrative, which feels like a second-rate streaming miniseries condensed into an unwieldy feature film.

The performers throw themselves into their roles, for better and worse, and their Italian-ish accents range from nearly nonexistent (Irons) to Super Mario (Leto, picking a seemingly random set of words to bafflingly mispronounce). A version of House of Gucci that embraced campy ridiculousness would have been more entertaining, but camp is not within Scott's skill set. He treats this lurid story with detached competence, thus largely missing the point. ♦

Two Stars HOUSE OF GUCCI
Rated R
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino

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