At the end of House of Gucci (in theaters November 24), we see a title card explaining the fate of Patrizia Reggiani (aka Patrizia Gucci) when she was put on trial for the murder of her ex-husband, Mauricio, heir to the Gucci fashion empire. These brief sentences suggest a sensational criminal trial for a crime born of longstanding fury—which, curiously enough, we see little of in the actual film. 

Much of those flashy story beats have been excised in favor of talk about company shares and father/son anguish. Which is emblematic of a movie at war with itself, caught between the lure of campy excess and the seeming desire to tell a more somber tale of dynastic struggle. If only director Ridley Scott, and screenwriters Becky Johnston and Robert Bentivegna, had embraced the former rather than the latter. 

House of Gucci starts off with a propulsive charge. We meet young Patrizia, played by a coiffed and thickly accented Lady Gaga, and she makes cute with reluctant scion Maurizio, played somehow both dashing and awkward by Adam Driver. Just as she did in her first film, 2018’s A Star Is Born, Gaga makes a wonderful, slinky swoon of falling in love. Patrizia and Maurizio’s giddy energy animates these early scenes, the sexy rush of romance in bloom mingling with a tantalizing whiff of dangerous ambition. 

Much hay has already been made about House of Gucci’s accents, gnarls of Italianate vowel-sounds that veer in and out of the realm of credibility. But Gaga and Driver, circling and crashing into one another, give performances that overcome any linguistic wobbliness. They almost make it possible to forget that they’re attempting high-wire accent work at all. Their magnetic charm seems to promise a film that ably balances silliness with sincere passion. 

But, as happens in any long-term relationship, eventually we have to meet the rest of the family. They come in the form of an A-list ensemble: Jeremy Irons as Maurizio’s disdainful father, Rodolfo; Al Pacino as his more flamboyant brother, Aldo; and Jared Leto as Aldo’s wayward son, Paolo. When we find it, the Gucci brand is respected, but perhaps a bit stale and retrograde. And it’s run erratically by Aldo, a crisis of management which Patrizia sees as an opportunity. She gradually urges her husband toward company control, which is when the movie should pick up steam and become a series of juicy power plays between absurdly wealthy family members, all taking place in various fabulous villas, chalets, and Milan apartments.

Alas, that film was not meant to be. House of Gucci slows as it goes, making a dire miscalculation in its calibration of the personal lives and the business. We spend plenty of time on financial matters, but don’t learn enough about what specifically makes Gucci Gucci, beyond some of their signature finishes. And, for all the shouty drama, we lose sight of the people involved—Patrizia in particular—as the movie stumbles through the years on its way toward Maurizio’s untimely end. The marital drama grows repetitive, as do the tepid ins-and-outs of majority holdings and other matters of industry. In all its canned conflict, House of Gucci takes on an air of the generic, which is the last thing that you’d ever want to call a film like this.

Of course, there are plenty of gorgeously decadent outfits to savor, worn with especial panache by Gaga (naturally). A shiny, blood-red ski suit is a stand-out, donned for a scene in which Patrizia tries to swat down a woman prowling around Maurizio (Camille Cottin). That’s one of the last fun moments of the film, before everything gives way to confusingly articulated downfall.

Those glorious fashions are the only visuals that really pop in Scott’s drab presentation, which favors the moody and gloomy over splash and color. It’s as if we can see Scott and company straining to make this a serious film, rather than simply leaning into the murderous froth of it all and letting us enjoy that. (With some amount of guilt—someone was killed, after all.) I’m not sure where this impulse was coming from, but I suspect it has something to do with trying to make a film that appeals to more than the gals and gays who all but pre-ordered their tickets on the day the film was announced. 

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