‘House of Gucci’ uninspired and unsure of itself

Images courtesy United Artists Releasing.

4/10 Director/producer Ridley Scott has released his second feature in as many months, and it’s decidedly the lesser of the two.

House of Gucci goes through the true story of Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), who married into the Gucci family in 1972 and was eventually convicted of arranging the assassination of her ex-husband, Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), in 1995. The movie covers her fight for control of the company, first against her unambitious husband and then against the family’s elders, until the marriage deteriorates, freezing her out regardless. Reggiani served 18 years in prison from a 29-year sentence and is still alive today and still introduces herself as a Gucci, despite being legally barred from doing so.

In this year-end torrent of new work from big-name directors, some backlogged from the shutdown and some new, the question I constantly find myself asking is why a given director wants to tell the story they’re telling, and House of Gucci refuses to answer for itself. The 158-minute slog lacks energy, visual inspiration or even a particular angle for telling this story. It is tiring, slow and what little it has to say about its subject matter is obvious.

The predominant color is a sad, desaturated grey, and any chance to show off or even establish the opulence of the Gucci family or of the upper strati of Milan or New York City is shunned. I’m not finding much on the accuracy of Janty Yates’ costume design, but the whole movie looks so sad that it’s hard to appreciate anything the characters are wearing.

It was clearly important to Scott – he was the first director attached to the project way back in 2006, then he stepped down and eventually became the fourth choice to direct it as it circled back for more than a decade, always with a new writer and star lined up – but I can’t figure why. Under pressure from the surviving Guccis, which has been a constant throughout the project’s lifespan, Scott said both that he tried to be as factual as possible and that the Gucci story lends itself to the satire he tried to make here, and if House of Gucci feels like anything, it feels like a movie trying to back up both of those contradictory assertions.

Leto’s gross, self-important turn as Paulo Gucci is sort of an in-runtime example of what an enjoyable, silly thing House of Gucci could have been and seems like it wants to be. I find myself giggling everytime he’s onscreen and wondering what this movie would be like with him as the protagonist, Reggiani’s plot to take control one of many competing schemes that he’s barely even aware of.

The film is bone-dry and highly factual to what is known about the family, and all story-level editorial decisions seem to be based around reducing the cast to only the key players in Maurizio Gucci’s fumbling of the company – his father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), his uncle, Aldo (Al Pacino) and his imbecilic cousin, Paulo (Jared Leto in heavy prosthetics). The rest of the Gucci family tree is completely absent, and this is a major misstep. Crumbling cinematic families are filled with disparate members with their own unrelated ambitions and frivolous concerns, and this is often the heart of the dysfunction. The Corleones wouldn’t be so tragic if Fredo didn’t want something in it for himself on his own, the Bluths wouldn’t be a circus without Gob’s demands that his illusions be taken seriously, and neither of them feel so important if there weren’t all those damn people everywhere. When the Guccis fall, it seems to be in spite of the fact that none of them care for anything but the family empire, not because of it.

The dryness isn’t always bad. House of Gucci often rises to satire, particularly in Paulo Gucci’s sadly limited scenes. Every member of the star-studded cast plays every line with a slow, grotesque Italian accent, and there seems to be a split behind the scenes on how much fun it’s meant to be. Gaga, despite refusing to properly research the part, maintained her accent for more than a year and is extremely proud of her performance. Only Paulo is written ridiculously enough to match the performance, and only Leto relishes the role enough to bring all of it out.

Between the uneven scenes and uneven behind-the-scenes, Scott’s apparent lack of clarity on whether this is a respectful retelling or a big joke, Gaga’s insistence on the authenticity of her performance and Leto’s exuberantly inauthentic performance, it’s hard to tell what House of Gucci was ever supposed to be. This is a real-life tale about the intersection of family and business, how the media sensation that was Gucci created what was essentially a royal family – this element, which is important for establishing the stakes of any retelling of this story, is distinctly lacking – and the clash between the inheritance of power and the seizing of it.

As Scott says, the story lends itself easily to satire just because of how goofy many of its details are, but it lends itself to so much more. Seeing it now only fail to develop into a satire outside of a single character but also not develop or even establish these other elements is a major disappointment.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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