House of Gucci, a Meaty Entrée that Needs More Garish Sauce

House of Gucci is two and a half hours of proof for Ridley Scott. It’s proof of his formal control and technical mastery, as well as his tendency to eschew humor and farce in favor of high drama. It’s a picture brimming with good and near-great performances, many of which stop just short of truly wowing an audience with flair or fever-pitch madness. It’s also a picture that desperately needs more sauce. For a film about unscrupulous Italians, it’s lacking the pizzazz and performative vigor that often follows such crime dramas. Gucci may be campy to an extent, but the relative lack of such deprives the story of much-needed energy. Scott seems more interested in the machinations of the Gucci business versus the personal manipulations between family members, though the two are intertwined. House of Gucci is a good movie lacking a great script.

From pristine lensing by Dariusz Wolski, capturing the amber glitz of late 70’s Italy and the razzle-dazzle of 80’s Manhattan, to incredible costuming by Janty Yates, capturing both the high-fashion glam of Gucci wear and the dated, overstated pomp and circumstance that rendered them irrelevant at one point in time, Scott’s film is something of a technical marvel. Coupled with a tremendous soundtrack, featuring the likes of Blondie, David Bowie, and Eurythmics, smash-cut editing quickens the pace in select montages at just the moment when impatience rears its head. Scott has cast a rather cold eye towards the family, observing their rise and fall with objective remove more so than subjective passion, occasionally rendering the narrative seemingly passive or inert at times. Too many scenes involve sterile meetings and coffee-table conversations about the minutiae of the business. The steep production values ensure the picture never becomes too clinical or hyper-realistic though. After all, audiences aren’t in it to know every gram of fact-based detail about a single, low-key crime in the annals of fashion history. They’re in it for the soap opera. However, such remove doesn’t gel with high-camp or farcical comedy, so when Jared Leto’s Paulo Gucci enters the fray, trying as he might to invigorate the proceedings with a Mario accent, heavy makeup, and chic velvet suits, the cocktail of Scott’s po-faced directorial style and Leto’s goofy eccentricities simply doesn’t vibe. House of Gucci is at its best during the rise, when Patrizia Reggiani begins chasing Maurizio and they fall madly in love in Italy. The soundtrack’s more memorable needle drops occur during these early stretches and watching Adam Driver and Lady Gaga heat up the screen as lovers is a sight for sore eyes. Their chemistry is certainly palpable, and on the heels of her chemistry with Cooper in A Star is Born, perhaps Gaga has chemistry with everybody.

The cast may not always be in concert with one another, some subtle and others seriously going for it, but there are gems among them. The star of the show, Lady Gaga, is by turns charismatic and curiously in over her head. She’s wonderfully captivating when playing up Reggiani’s early allure, her ability to reel in Maurizio and sometimes sink in her long fingernails like a puppeteer unaware of how good they really are at manipulating the rubes around them. It’s in the later stages of the narrative, when the fall is upon her or behind her and Gaga is asked to mix and match a myriad of complex feelings in Reggiani’s pursuit of getting back on top, that it seems the overall task is slightly out of her reach. Driver continues a 2021 hot streak on the tails of Annette and The Last Duel, delivering an understated portrayal of a man born into wealth who rejects it until he’s finally forced to confront it. And when he does, he embraces everything that was his family’s downfall. Driver is let down slightly by a script that doesn’t dutifully trace his steps from meek-and-humble to monied-and-careless. Surprisingly, best-in-show belongs to Al Pacino as uncle Aldo Gucci, the man who made their empire what it is. Unsurprisingly, Pacino adopts the best accent, studied he must be by now in all variants of Italian. Rounding out the cast are Jeremy Irons as Gucci patriarch Rodolfo, Salma Hayek as Reggiani co-conspirator and fraudulent psychic Giusseppina, and Jack Huston as family consigliere Dominico de Sole.

One of the film’s best moments comes just before the dirty gunshot is finally done, when all music has disappeared and Maurizio enjoys an espresso, cigarettes, and a little jaunt on his bike down cobblestone streets. It’s an unusually haunting moment in a picture that is otherwise not prone to much atmosphere outside of rabid nightclubs and snowy mountains. Much like the Guccis themselves, Ridley Scott’s fashionista epic stops short of greatness, too preoccupied with formal remove, business acumen, and funny accents to plumb the depths of the family’s story for all its soap opera camp and obvious emotional intrigue. Nevertheless, Scott nearly outdoes himself here when it comes to technical precision, if not pacing. House of Gucci is a fine meal lacking that extra sauce needed to make it a more memorable one.

Grade: B

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