House of Gucci Lady Gaga Ridley Scott Al Pacino Adam Driver Jeremy Irons Jared Leto

Lady Gaga & Al Pacino steal the show in the mess that is House of Gucci

“It’s a grand failure that is ambitious and provocative, on the money as often as it’s off the mark.”

Let’s cut to the chase: House of Gucci is a mess. It’s a film that lacks cohesion, and most of the actors don’t act with each other so much as they act at each other. There’s little room for understanding or empathy, and as much as this contributes to the film’s sense of chaos, it also lends itself to the decadent rot at the heart of the Gucci family. For all its failures in terms of tone and characterization, the movie manages to be exciting and expressive. It’s a grand failure that is ambitious and provocative, on the money as often as it’s off the mark. The film’s over-the-topness, not quite camp but certainly decadent, gives more leeway on less effective elements as part of an overall throwback to an elegant and bloated American Hollywood film that otherwise seems DOA.

The film begins in 1978 when Maurizio Gucci (a demure Adam Driver) meets his bride-to-be Patrizia (Lady Gaga). He has no ambition to take over the family company, and she wants it all: love, family and prestige. What’s fascinating from the onset of the film, if you know where it is headed, it’s that Patrizia’s motive transcends material greed. She wants everything. She wants Maurizio, and she wants the family name. She wants to keep eating the pie.

The screenplay handles the story and thematic progression with incredible grace. We immediately understand that the elites’ world is not off-limits to the peasants. Beauty becomes just one tool to work your way into their universe. Unlike the idiot son Paolo (a grimy and baffling Jared Leto) who can burn the company to the ground with little consequence, Patrizia’s beauty offers a conditional entryway; she must be obedient, and she must be youthful. While in many ways the obvious villain of the piece, the outsider who ruins a family, the film doesn’t paint Patrizia as nefarious in any obvious way. Yes, she’s greedy, yes she’s impulsive, but if she were born wealthy, it’s clear her eccentricity would be tolerated, not scorned.

Many lovely little scenes play with these distinct class differences. After the tax-men invade their villa in Italy, Maurizio and Patrizia escape (separately) to Switzerland. When Patrizia arrives, Maurizio and his friends are seated around an outdoor table. She joins them and turns on her charm, but suddenly they are impervious. Maurizio humiliates her, exposing her social-climbing instincts. The pure Maurizio, who once upon a time had no interest in taking over Gucci, has tired of his wife and has embraced the dangerous illusion that his birthright entitles him to lead the company. Maurizio’s transformation may be subtler, but I’d argue it’s also more sinister. He comes to believe, like his forebears, that he’s a kind of god despite evidence that he has little to no instinct for business. Without his birthright, he never would have ascended to the top of an empire like Gucci.

While the film is mostly focused on Patrizia’s transformation, she arguably doesn’t change much. She becomes more excessive; her festering rage over inequality explodes, but fundamentally she remains the same person (she ages and becomes less valuable, so the family rejects her). As she becomes more deeply embroiled in the world of the tarot and destiny, it expresses a legitimate grievance that imbeciles and fools will inherit the earth if they’re born with the right name. They got lucky, and she wants to be lucky, too. In another scene, she discusses the unfairness of stealing for ego or pleasure, implying that when she “steals,” it’s with reason. She understands that the wealthy are never satisfied, and they will never willingly share their riches. With little irony, of course, she does the same after all. 

All these ideas are wrapped up in a package that glitters with gold and fabulous decadence. The first visit Patrizia and Maurizio make as man and wife to one of the Gucci villas opens with a drone shot that celebrates the excess of privilege as it zones in on the men of the family fighting in the backyard. The performances vary from mesmerizing (Gaga and Pacino), demure but character appropriate (Driver and Irons, though less so), to completely perplexing (Jared Leto). Against the awesome backdrops, their grievances feel incredibly petty and short-sighted. It’s a movie of excess, down to its nearly three-hour run time.

The movie often feels bloated and asks the audience to suffer certain indecencies (Leto) to get to the point. Yet it’s rarely dull. It’s certainly the lesser of the two Ridley Scott films this fall, but House of Gucci and The Last Duel complement each other as examinations of privilege, gender and legacy. House of Gucci is undoubtedly flawed, but it’s also a lot of fun. ■

House of Gucci opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Nov. 26.

House of Gucci, directed by Ridley Scott

For more film and TV coverage, please visit the Film & TV section.