Caught somewhere between cautionary fairy tale and true-crime farce, House of Gucci never settles on a tone that would elevate it into something great. There are more compelling “rich people behaving badly” stories out there, and this is desperate to be counted among them. Disappointingly, it’s not sharp enough to be satire or absurd enough to be camp. Instead, it’s closer to a poorly written Wikipedia article, focusing at length on all the wrong historical tidbits, glossing over the most compelling parts of the story and leaving you with more questions than answers.
It’s a shame that this movie is poised to make the big bucks, pulled in from Lady Gaga’s star power alone, that The Last Duel failed to draw. For my money, Ridley Scott’s first 2021 movie is vastly superior to his second in just about every way. The script is better, the themes clearer, the editing crucial, the performances all of a piece. In The Last Duel, everyone knows what movie they are in. The same is not true for House of Gucci.
In the right hands, mess is as good as gold. Mess can be operatic, uproarious, poignant. The Gucci family may have been messy in real life, but here, it’s mostly boring. Although the movie starts strong with Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) meeting and marrying Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) despite her lower-class status and his father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), believing that she is a gold digger, it quickly loses steam as it strays from Patrizia’s outsider’s view of the Gucci family in favor of the far less interesting in-fighting. If Patrizia is our protagonist, then Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Al Pacino, weirdly un-Pacino-like) and cousin Paolo (Jared Leto, who must be seen to be believed) should be the antagonists — but they’re such nothings that Patrizia and Maurizio’s battles with them feel motiveless at best and perfunctory at worst.
Never mind that the whole Gucci saga ends with a murder that is treated just as mechanically and borderline thoughtlessly. Patrizia’s reasons for ordering the hit on her husband are so stereotypical that those reasons do not feel justifiable. Of course, no reason is good enough to put a hit on your ex-husband; that’s the whole point of the justice system (theoretically, at least). But also, if this movie did its job, we would be on Patrizia’s side when she turns to her last resort. Instead, the viewer is left confused because the movie loses sight of Patrizia and her motivations almost as soon as she and Maurizio get married. Was it greed that impelled her to push a reluctant Maurizio to wage war on his family or did she truly believe that he could reinvigorate the Gucci name? Did she merely support him like a good Italian wife or did she want to run the family business from the shadows? Did she decide to ensnare Maurizio the moment she heard his last name or did she really love him? A better movie would answer these questions with at least some nuance, but House of Gucci leaves nuance at the door and instead opts for a big ol’ shrug. Patrizia’s reasons for murdering her husband are less important than ending the movie before it hits three hours.
Smarter people than me hedged their expectations of Gucci. With the wild accents and scandalous subject matter, I was expecting a camp masterpiece, but only one person in the entire cast and crew seems to have gotten that memo. I generally find Jared Leto to be exhausting, but the way he just absolutely goes for it in this movie makes it worth the price of admission. His performance is so unreal it’s indescribable, practically on another plane of existence in its baffling eccentricity and definitely questionable caricature of Italianness. But if everyone else had delivered that same level of energy, this movie would at least be fun. Instead, we got a drag.
While there are high points in this film — my brain was constantly screaming “CUTE!” about Adam Driver, whose performance and styling are indeed very cute, but also probably belong in an entirely different movie) — I just can’t get past how forgettable and aimless the rest of it is. The Oscar buzz for Lady Gaga is a significant bummer if only because she deserved a much better movie to pour so much of herself into — but then again, she wouldn’t be Lady Gaga if she did anything by halves. She swings as hard as she can, but it’s not her fault House of Gucci is a miss.