‘House of Gucci,’ a knock-off luxury handbag of a movie from Ridley Scott
Like a lousy knock-off luxury handbag, House of Gucci feels expendable and shows its seams. The product still bears a looks-good-when-you-squint veneer and essentially serves its baseline function as a true-crime morality tale, but the whole construction is fundamentally shoddy. Scenes are poorly paced, dialogue is flat, and performances seem unguided. It’s both overlong and underdeveloped. There’s a rough-cut sensibility to the entire production, as though every scene lacks assurance and passion. What a curious disconnect for such an operatic tale about hot-blooded denizens of the Bel Paese.
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HOUSE OF GUCCI★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Becky Johnston, Roberto Bentivenga
Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Al Pacino
Running time: 157 mins
How strange, since the real-life story, first recounted in the 2000 book House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed by reporter Sara Gay Forden, is a vivid chronicle of the Italian adage Dalle stalle alle stelle alle stalle: from the stalls, to the stars, to the stalls. Many countries, from China to Spain, have a variation on this tragic dimension to family wealth: the first generation makes a fortune, the second generation spends it, and the third generation squanders it.
In this case, it’s sons Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and Aldo (Al Pacino) who inherited the high-quality Florentine leather goods company their father Guccio Gucci founded back in 1921. But by 1978, the aging scions are at loggerheads about Gucci’s future. Rodolfo, a faded film actor and half-hearted businessman, wants to maintain the company’s modest size. The brash Aldo, who expanded Gucci’s line into more affordable knick-knacks, wants to open a branch in a Japanese mall at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
Enter Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a ripe-tomato opportunist whose father runs a blue-collar truck-driving operation that may or may not have ties to the mafia. At a brash costume party pumped up with Donna Summer disco hits, she accidentally meets the self-effacing Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). He’s a reserved, bespectacled law student who couldn’t care less about the family business and knows how corruptive its wealth can be. “I don’t have that Tuscan character,” he tells her. “It was diluted by my German mother’s blood.” He falls for her hourglass figure and assertive spunk, but Rodolfo recoils at Patrizia and disinherits Maurizio. She still stays with him anyway; is it love or is she playing the long game? The two get married and have lots of intense, hot, face-slapping sex.
Aldo, hatching a power play and spurning his goofy failson Paolo (Jared Leto, plump in prosthetics), lures Maurizio back into the fold by charming an eager Patrizia—who becomes the proverbial fox in a henhouse. And when the consumptive-coughing Rodolfo finally dies, she starts to manipulate family member against family member. “Eet’s time to take out de trash,” Patrizia spits with a sing-song swagger.
A note about the actors’ accents: they’re insane. Driver’s is the least bad, but his character is quiet and controlled. Everyone else sounds like Count Chocula: chewy Italian stereotype seasoned with a vague Eastern European panache. Even Irons succumbs, turning his trademark lockjaw growl into rolly-polly inflections. “Whaaaat is dissss?” Pacino croons at one point. Good question, Al.
The actors, all phenomenally talented entertainers, throw themselves into the project with characteristic gusto. But they seem weirdly rudderless, almost befuddled as to whether this is high drama or high camp. The problem is it’s neither when it should be both. Scott wants to emphasize empathy, then seems lost in the Klimt-and-Lamborghini excess. “I would rather weep in a Rolls-Royce than be happy on a bicycle,” the real Patriciza reportedly said. The actual people were wonderfully highbrow and deliciously lowbrow, and yet the film settles for middling middlebrow.
What the movie lacks is a real sense of vision, a driving force that makes the movie pop and sizzle. A filmmaker like Bertrand Bonello could have given it that posh push: he captured the French fashion industry’s stygian layers with ripe seduction in his thrillingly outré biopic Saint Laurent. Just imagine a helmer like native son Paolo Sorrentino, whose many chronicles of Italy’s political excesses and amorality in movies like Il Divo and Loro are morally perverse while being impeccably sumptuous. Maybe Ridley Scott’s icy British remove was the reason he couldn’t match those continental directors. Or maybe he just doesn’t have an innate sense of style, which might be even worse. Who would have thought a movie called House of Gucci could be so tacky?