I’m sure there is a documentary out there about the Guccis and Patrizia Reggiani, and if you’re interested in the story and how it all panned out then that’s probably the better way to do it. Because as glamorous and as illustrious as the Guccis were, Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” basically boils down to a family squabble over some unsigned share certificates, and a lot of the time it just doesn’t make for entertaining viewing.
In the early 1970s, the ambitious and charming Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) meets Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the heir to a 50% interest in the Gucci fashion house at a party and is determined to marry him and gain access to the fortune and legacy that comes with the Gucci name. Maurizio’s father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) warns Maurizio about Patrizia and that she is only after his money, and that if he proceeds with marrying her then he will be written out of his will. Upon their marriage, Patrizia sets about reconciling Maurizio with his uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) and then as well with Rodolfo. As the film progresses, Patrizia becomes more and more brazen and manipulative, double crossing Maurizio’s boofoon of a cousin Paolo (Jared Leto), with Maurizio following suit and selling out his uncle and cousin before leaving Patrizia and almost driving Gucci into the ground with excessive spending and poor management. Patrizia becomes incensed after trying to reconcile with Maurizio, and with the help of her psychic friend Giuseppina “Pina” Auriemma (Selma Hayek) and two boorish hitmen, Maurizio is assassinated outside his home. The film closes with Patrizia, Pina and the two hitmen being charged with his murder.
On the surface, this should be a slam dunk, but it doesn’t take long for the flaws in the film’s construction and the flimsiness of the narrative to show. There’s no doubt that there’s an enormous amount of talent in this cast, but the script has been written in a way that lacks continuity and seems to jump sporadically across years, hairstyles and varying degrees of family hostility with none of it really feeling earned. Despite the best efforts of the actors, its hard for any of them to develop any sense of character arc because the film is trying to cover a course of twenty five years and every notable event that happened to the Guccis, so it ends up flowing more like a series of individual short movies which work perfectly fine by themselves but makes for a jarring and unsettling run time. The story just doesn’t suit a chronological structure; what would have worked better is if the film had been oriented around Patrizia’s trial and used flashbacks to her days of glamour and glitter to really highlight just how far she had fallen in society. On top of that, some of the key events in the film have been barely justified. For example, prior to his assassination, Maurizio is bought out by the investment company which bought out Aldo’s shares because of his reckless spending and managerial incompetence. This comes as a complete slap in the face however because the only indication we’re given of this is that he has bought a Ferrari in the previous scene.
The performances across the board are strong, particularly from Pacino and Irons. Although, and I can’t quite figure out why, but there’s something a little odd about Lady Gaga’s. It’s as if she’s come to a party dressed as Patrizia Reggiani and has practiced her accent for a party trick. I never once bought her as the complex person she was supposed to be portraying; the many times Patrizia cries and leaves a perfect mascara streak down her cheek, I thought to myself – that’s kind of cool that Lady Gaga can cry on cue, rather than buying it as a response to what the character is feeling. In a strange way, this could have worked in the actress’ favour, because Patrizia Reggiani herself was playing a role her entire life. She was duplicitous and manipulative and managed to convince an awful lot of people that they could trust and love her. Unfortunately though, Lady Gaga’s disconnect from the character seems to carry through to when she is alone and supposedly at her most vulnerable. This is with one notable exception. There’s a scene in which Patrizia and Maurizio are dining in Aspen with a smattering of Maurizio’s glamorous friends. Patrizia tries to lead the conversation by telling a story about the best macaroons in the world, which of course are found in Paris. Maurizio cuts her down with snide comments and humiliates her, but she presses on with increasingly desperate airiness. She’s not from the same world as these people, and she knows that not all the designer clothes, jewellery or real estate in the world can change that. This is where Gaga shines; you can see the frustration and humiliation and hurt, and her desperation to convince the blue bloods that not only does she truly belong there, but that she’s better than them.
There’s a scene in Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” in which Patrizia Gucci discovers that there is a ring of counterfeit Gucci merchandise being circulated. She’s mortified, because even though the handbags and scarves may look an awful lot like the real thing, the stitching is shoddy, the material is cheap and abrasive and the dyes are lack luster. These fake Gucci goods are strangely symbolic of “House of Gucci” itself; the costumes are flashy, the scenery is magnificent, the cast ensemble is glittering with some real relics of Hollywood royalty, in short – the whole thing looks a lot like the real deal. However, Lady Gaga’s performance lacks nuance, the pacing is inconsistent, the plot line seems to be missing some crucial details and the most exciting part of the whole story (the assassination of Maurizio Gucci) is essentially a footnote at the conclusion of the story. There are enjoyable elements in this film, its just that its not the piece of 1980s Gucci couture that it so desperately wants to be.
By Jock Lehman