House of Gucci is relentlessly entertaining spectacle, utterly soapy and only occasionally undermined by some bland prestige film sheen.
Ridley Scott goes two-for-two this year, first with the under-appreciated The Last Duel and now with the perverse, classed-up House of Gucci, a pitch-black, extremely dry comedy of manners very thinly disguised as a true-crime drama. Based on Sara Gay Forden’s 2001 book of the same name, it (sort of) details the marriage of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), eventual heir to the dynasty of the legendary fashion house, to Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), who would eventually be convicted of contracting out his murder. Born into money but disdainful of both his family’s decadence and even more so his father Rodolfo’s (Jeremy Irons) insistence on tradition, Maurizio renounces his claim to the company, intending to strike his own path with his new bride. Eventually, though, duty calls, and he’s brought back into the fold by his flamboyant uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), who co-owns the family business with Rodolfo. At first he’s hesitant to dive in, but in due time is swayed by the trappings of money and high-living. Even more captivated by such things is Patrizia, who longs for both power and prestige and soon becomes an expert manipulator even as her marriage begins to unravel.
Scott treats this all very clinically; if House of Gucci has a major flaw, it’s that Scott’s aspirations to the sort of classy filmmaking that might win awards tend to undercut the intentional camp of it all, and the movie could use a real dose of gauche flamboyance. But that’s more than made up for by endless displays of gorgeous clothes, exotic locales, fast cars, huge houses, and tacky interior design, along with lots of peppy disco-powered montage (most of the movie takes place in the ’80s, making the complete lack of on-screen cocaine use a bit conspicuous). What’s more, the cast he’s assembled is uniformly firing on all cylinders. Gaga is a complete force, by turns strident, icy, sexy, and ultimately downright unhinged. Meanwhile, Driver gets to play mild-mannered for a change, Irons confirms he’s the master of brittle disdain, and Pacino gets to go appropriately big. Also along for the ride is Jared Leto, under what must be literal pounds of makeup, as Aldo’s portly, balding, incompetent son Paulo and Salma Hayek as a TV psychic who becomes Patrizia’s confidante and partner in murder. And everyone — absolutely everyone — is trotting out “atsa spicy meatball” Italian accents that don’t sound remotely accurate but make every threat and insult that much funnier.
House of Gucci isn’t a satire per se, but it does find Scott squarely in his wheelhouse given his obvious and intimate knowledge of the idle/awful rich and, simultaneously, his arch desire to chronicle their foibles. Much like his recent masterpiece The Counselor, this film is a relatively meandering collection of scenes in which two or three of the characters come together to spar verbally and figure out how best to get the others to fall on their own swords. Here, he’s married that with what can only be described as a very expensive and very long episode of a prime-time soap like Dynasty or Dallas with their incredulous plot twists and scheming upper-crust assholes. It’s relentlessly entertaining and entirely self-aware in its silliness, an element that Scott has once again used as a fine cutting tool.