In 2013, Ridley Scott made a thriller called The Counselor that got mostly bad reviews and flopped at the box office. Once it hit DVD, more people discovered what some of us already knew – that it was an intentionally crazy movie with tons of entertainment value if you approached it on the right level. House of Gucci finds Scott working in this style again. On the surface, it looks like a serious, awards-caliber movie about the famed fashion company. Take it that way and you'll probably be disappointed. View it as a star-studded romp filled with bad accents, wild costumes, odd '70s and '80s needle drops, and enough theatrics to fill an airplane hanger, and you're bound to have a ton of fun.
Adam Driver stars as Maurizio Gucci, a member of the famed Italian clan. He isn't terribly interested in the family business, to the dismay of father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), yet he goes along with it because that's what's expected. At a party one night, he meets Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), the daughter of a man who owns a trucking business. They fall in love despite coming from different worlds. Rodolfo doesn't approve, so he tosses Maurizio out of the company. Maurizio's uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) wants to bring him back into the fold, dangling all kinds of financial temptations in front of him.
That's when the fireworks start. Maurizio does indeed come back to the company. The more success he has, the more Patrizia changes. She views taking the Gucci name as being a Gucci, leading her to become less humble and more ruthless. Maurizio's talentless cousin Paolo (Jared Leto) desperately wants in the game, too, although he finds it difficult to get a foothold, mostly because he's a schmuck. A battle for control of the company erupts, with people stabbing each other in the backs like there's no tomorrow. Infidelity and murder eventually become part of the equation, as well.
How do you make a serious, realistic movie about people who essentially live in a bubble where money is no object and morals are subject to one's daily whims? You probably don't. The Gucci story is so inherently melodramatic that doing it “straight” would likely never work. Perhaps recognizing that, Scott leans into the insanity, crafting an unabashed soap opera where everything is slightly over-the-top.
That starts with the performances. Driver is not the most obvious choice for Maurizio, yet he's still dependably good. Lady Gaga tears it up as Patrizia, showing how her relative innocence gives way to a cold, calculating nature once her position within the Gucci empire is threatened. Al Pacino does Al Pacino, which is to say he gives the sort of bombastic performance that has been his stock in trade since Scent of a Woman. Then there's Jared Leto, virtually unrecognizable under a balding head and facial prosthetics. He's both the best and worst thing about House of Gucci. Worst in that he seems to be in a completely different movie (and a comedy, no less), best because his weirdo turn as Paolo is easily the most pleasurable element in the film. Everyone speaks in thick Italian accents that make them sound like the video game character Mario. I half expected Leto, in particular, to jump down a green pipe and start jumping on turtles.
Glossy cinematography from Dariusz Wolski perfectly sets the mood, bringing to life the idea that the world is a playground for these characters. After all, they don't set foot in Target or McDonald's. Luxury settings are where their days are spent. The movie's drama plays out in lush locations like mansions, high-end retail stores, fancy restaurants, ski slopes, etc. Wolski makes these places look glamourous to the extreme, helping to convey how insulated the characters are from normal life. When everything around you reeks of money, an inflated sense of self-importance is virtually possible to avoid.
Are you getting the picture of how this movie plays? It's Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with an all-star cast of performers chewing the scenery in a fascinating mostly-true story. House of Gucci works because Ridley Scott is in complete control of the tone, and because the actors are always enjoyable to watch. The Guccis were not like you and me. They existed in a sphere of opulence, the likes of which most of us can only dream about. By amplifying that quality, the film makes us want to peek into that sphere more and more as the story progresses.
House of Gucci may not be high art, but it sure is good viewing.
out of four
House of Gucci is rated R for language, some sexual content, and brief nudity and violence. The running time is 2 hours and 38 minutes.