“The ex-wife of Italian fashion heir Maurizio Gucci was convicted of ordering her husband’s murder, and was sentenced to 29 years in prison. Most agree this is a tremendous price to pay for a Gucci knock-off.” — Colin Quinn, Saturday Night Live, Nov. 7, 1998
It’s an irresistible subject. Back in their day, the family intrigue and backbiting among the Gucci family had observers comparing them to prime-time soap operas like Dallas and Dynasty. Nowadays, we’d say they were like an episode of Succession, with cooler clothes. Ah, but there’s a problem comparing those to House of Gucci, because those shows put a premium on entertaining their audience. A savvier filmmaker might have used the story to revel in the sleaze and the money and the clothes, but no, Ridley Scott had to put his hands on it. He films it like High Art, and the movie turns out as lifeless as a group of draped mannequins in an empty hall.
Adapted from Sara Gay Forden’s book, the story picks up in 1978 in Milan, where Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) meets Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at a society party, lighting up when he casually drops his famous surname. She pursues him aggressively until he marries her. His father, faded movie actor Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons), pegs her as a gold-digger and disinherits his son, but Maurizio’s uncle and former movie star Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) is more kindly disposed to her. While Maurizio is happy working for the trucking company that Patrizia’s father owns, she pushes him to reconcile with the family because she envisions him leading the venerable label back to the top of the fashion world.
When I reviewed A Star Is Born, I wondered whether Lady Gaga could play a character who’s not like herself. She answers my question with a definitive affirmative here. While wooing Aldo’s middle-aged loser of a son Paolo (Jared Leto, with a bald cap, extra weight, and bad teeth) to support Maurizio at the company, she starts dancing with him. Later in the same scene, she crosses herself and solemnly swears, “Father, Son, and House of Gucci.” She doesn’t disappoint in the later scenes, either, as Maurizio tries to cut Patrizia out of his life and she turns desperate and possessive, with a determined gleam in her eye as she barks out orders to the hit men who will kill him. It’s not unreasonable for us to expect a movie about fashion (even one that ends in murder) to be fun, and she’s the one actor in this cast stuffed with Oscar laureates who supplies that. She has better instincts about what this film should be than the guy who’s been directing movies for 45 years.
Possibly due to his advanced age, Scott seems to forget that movies are supposed to be entertainment. The pacing and rhythm of this piece are glacial, and the only reason why this film should run 157 minutes is so that he can remind us that we’re watching something important. Too often, that’s his approach whether he’s directing a Biblical epic like Exodus: Gods and Kings, a caper film like Robin Hood, or one of those Alien sequels. He doesn’t tell stories anymore, he chisels monuments out of stone. And we’re left cold.
What I wouldn’t give to have seen Tom Ford make this movie. The clothing designer has not only become an estimable film director himself, but also had his own role in the Gucci family saga, as his designs brought the label back to relevance in the 1990s. This year we’ve seen Cruella and Last Night in Soho, movies about fashion that made it interesting even to fans with no interest in clothes. House of Gucci, on the other hand, seems too serious to take pleasure in anything. So there’s little pleasure to take from it.
House of Gucci
Starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, based on Sara Gay Forden’s book. Rated R.