REVIEW: House of Gucci [2021]

Rating: 6 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 158 minutes
    Release Date: December 15th, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: United Artists Releasing
    Director(s): Ridley Scott
    Writer(s): Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna / Becky Johnston (story) / Sara Gay Forden (book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed)

Art, like beauty, has no price.

The problem with dynasties—royal or otherwise—is that genius isn’t hereditary. At some point, someone had it. Either they led a country to victory or built a company from the ground up. Then ego ultimately takes over. Those founders and rulers believe their name and blood will be enough to see things through into the future. And they forget that everything they experienced to get to the top cannot be replicated in a vacuum. Not only will subsequent generations not have the same interests, but they also probably won’t have the same drive. They’ll be groomed anyway, though. They’ll become circle pegs shoved through square holes until traits like duty, loyalty, and love become replaced by greed, bitterness, and cruelty. Why earn anything if it’s already owed?

Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) therefore had it right at the start of Ridley Scott‘s House of Gucci, a farcical account written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna (adapted from Sara Gay Forden‘s book) of the familial backstabbing that led the prominent brand to no longer have anyone with the Gucci name in a position of power. He got out. The only second-generation son (no mention of sisters is made, so I’ll assume Maurizio and Jared Leto‘s Paolo were the only heirs for Jeremy Irons‘ Rodolfo and Al Pacino‘s Aldo respectively) with a level head on his shoulders to potentially do anything of worth (his cousin fancied himself a designer and thought the world crazy when it constantly told him he wasn’t), he chose law school instead.

He also chose Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), the daughter of a trucking company owner Rodolfo thought beneath his son. Their love drove Maurizio away from the family completely. We witness their wedding on-screen with only two or three people even daring to sit on his side of the aisle. Rodolfo didn’t care, though. He saw Patrizia as a gold-digger and was perhaps grooming his most trusted confidant (Jack Huston‘s lawyer Domenico De Sole) to take his shares anyway. Aldo did care because he knew Paolo was dead weight and thus had nobody in line to carry his own vision forward. So, he tries schmoozing his nephew. It doesn’t work because Maurizio is happy with his independence from Gucci. But happiness and love are no match for Patrizia’s ambition.

What’s interesting about this story isn’t the lengths Patrizia goes to secure the future she envisioned upon meeting Maurizio at a party years earlier (and was laid out to her by television fortune teller-turned-friend Pina Auriemma, as played by Salma Hayek). No, it’s the way those lengths inevitably push her husband into becoming that which he never wanted to be. Because while he was a Gucci by name, his Tuscan blood was “diluted” by his mother’s German civility. Maurizio was the quiet, thoughtful type. He was the romantic who wanted his family to relinquish its intrinsic cutthroat competitive nature with each other. The more Patrizia coaxes him into that world, however, the more he embraces those tendencies. The more he becomes a Gucci, the less he needs her.

And therein lies the main issue with Scott’s film. It asks us to care about Patrizia when it’s Maurizio that captivates. This is his story. It starts with him smiling at nothing while drinking his coffee, a precursor to his end before rewinding back to his beginning. Rather than his birth or the death of his mother, however, it’s meeting his soon-to-be wife. That’s the moment his fate is sealed. That’s when he is teased by the possibility of a simple, joyous life away from the garish wealth he was raised under. He didn’t want to reconcile with his father or attend his uncle’s birthday party. Patrizia is the one who forced those issues. Her actions—often taken behind his back—demand that he cleans the resulting mess.

How he does it and how he struggles is constantly glossed over for the showier performance by Lady Gaga. She’s by no means bad (beyond Scott’s weird choice of having everyone speak in obviously fake Italian accents when he literally just made a film about the French with everyone speaking American). I think this role suits her talents well and she commands every scene she’s in. Patrizia isn’t a three-dimensional character, though. No one here is besides Maurizio. On a scale from Driver’s nuanced devolution (the early moments of fun working for his father-in-law are a delight) to Leto’s (supposedly accurate and admittedly hilarious) caricature, Gaga lands somewhere in the middle. But while she’s also a catalyst, she’s the spark for Maurizio’s tragic progression. Not her own.

So, while everything works quite well for the first two-thirds of the run-time due to Patrizia and Maurizio always being together as a singular entity within the plot, the final third slows to a crawl. Everything interesting is on the business front because everything that she did to claw her way into said business worked (exorbitant moral price, notwithstanding). Yet we keep being forced to care about their private lives instead. Why? Their daughter is nonexistent. Their love is obviously fractured by this point. And Camille Cottin‘s Paola, Maurizio’s old friend-turned-love interest, is hardly given anything to do beyond stoke Patrizia’s jealousy. The climax is thus a one-note, superficially drawn descent towards inevitability despite the hostile takeover Maurizio begins on his own holding real drama by comparison.

I therefore wonder what House of Gucci might have been if Scott and company took the material seriously or if an actual comedic filmmaker was able to do the opposite. As it exists now in the middle, its sum is sadly not equal to its parts. The good sequences thankfully outweigh the bad to make the trip enjoyable, but that’s about it. Those moments of true pathos and true absurdity conflict too regularly to ever know what’s expected of us while watching. Every time we think Scott is turning a corner to dig in and deliver this tragedy with weight, he adds an 80s needle-drop or over-the-top Paolo gag. And every time we settle in for more laughter, he lets Driver break our hearts (before ignoring him again).

[1] Adam Driver stars as Maurizio Gucci and Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani in Ridley Scott’s HOUSE OF GUCCI A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[2] (l-r.) Jared Leto stars as Paolo Gucci, Florence Andrews as Jenny Gucci, Adam Driver as Maurizio Gucci, Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani and Al Pacino as Aldo Gucci in Ridley Scott’s HOUSE OF GUCCI A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Jack Huston stars as Domenico De Sole and Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani in Ridley Scott’s HOUSE OF GUCCI A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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