English dictionary includes one word to describe House of Gucci (2021) – jejune. One can only imagine what this unbelievable true story could have been – and then, there’s this film.
After watching the trailer of Ridley Scott’s rich man’s tale about the Gucci family, I had little expectations. None of the actors sounded right for the part – particularly Lady Gaga’s excruciatingly misplaced, very Russian version of Italian. All-around glitz felt campy as hell, and I almost felt glitter gently falling on me each time I’d watched it. If anything, House of Gucci (2021) seemed to be a strong contender for the best over-the-top movie of the year.
The veteran’s track in similar escapades didn’t speak in favor of House of Gucci (2021) either. Just to remind you, it’s Mr. Scott who gave us Cameron Diaz’s least sexy scene in the history of cinema, where she rubbed her intimate parts on the windshield of Javier Bardem’s car. A) If you’re googling for a friend, it’s Counselor (2013), and B) no – it’s not in the iconic lane of Basic Instinct (1992) and that Sharon Stone scene.
To tell you the truth, House of Gucci (2021) may be closest to All The Money In The World (2017), not only because both stories talk about spoilt people with too many zeros on their accounts. Frankly, both films have one thing in common – they are riveting true crime stories that for some reason do not resonate as films. In the case of All The Money In The World (2017), there was the poignant score, the Oscar-nominated turn from Christopher Plummer, and the bedazzling set design – but all were disjointed from each other, as well as the idle storytelling that sunk this ship. Similar story takes place with House of Gucci (2021), but let’s start from scratch.
Like in the best of cautionary tales, the story begins with foreshadowing. Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) enjoys his espresso on a sunny day. Thanks to the voice over we learn that you – that means me and you and all the average folk out there – can’t afford even the cheapest thing that the Guccis can. For instance, a cup of espresso. Maurizio then hops on a bike, rides around with a big smile and light soul. The scene concludes ominously, with someone asking from behind the scene – “Signor Gucci?”. It’s in Maurizio’s eyes that we know – it’s not someone he’d like to see. Fade to black.
Let’s wind the clock back a bit, to the late 70s, when Patrizia Reggiano (Lady Gaga) meets Maurizio, and forces the fate to strike him down with Cupid’s arrow. Driver and Gaga struggle to unearth even traces of chemistry in their affair, oozing plastic aura that is bathed in warm Italian hues. Not everyone’s happy with the Reggiano arrangement, and soon Maurizio goes on a limb and stands against the will of his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons). He leaves the Gucci lifestyle to pursue a career of a car truck mechanic who likes to dampen his fellow employees while washing cars and play football in a scene that’s on-par with the shirtless Kylo Ren moment. Patrizia, however, remains focused on dreaming about the luxury that Maurizio so gallantly left behind just to be with her.
Although clearly hungry for power, Patrizia doesn’t just muscle in. After the initial rejection from Rodolfo, her next chance is Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino), who, for rather opaque reasons, falls in love with the couple. The growing affection for Maurizio and Patrizia doesn’t bode well for Paolo Gucci (Jared Leto) though, the walking disappointment of a son who is dotingly confident about his fashionista swag and design skills.
You would imagine that by this point, the backstabbing, fake alliances and intricately weaved webs of lies would kick in, but well, no such luck. On the contrary, the script of House of Gucci (2021) might be this year’s worst among big-studio titles. Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna are no screenwriting silverbacks, and oh boy, don’t you see that being watermarked all over the film. The Guccis – and most of the people around them, with a few exceptions – feel spineless, made of paper. Many scenes that should naturally play out as razor-sharp turn uncomfortable for their lack of structure and direction. Here’s an example. In a clash between Rodolfo and Paolo, the latter gets a verbal equivalent of a K.O., but that’s for the audience to “get”, because what it feels like is barely a gentle slap.
Truth be told, if the script was helmed by someone of Aaron Sorkin’s league, House of Gucci (2021) would probably abide in memorable moments and one-liners that speak volumes about each character. But the fallible storytelling casts shadow on everything else that follows – like the preposterous performances put by almost everyone involved in the production. To say that the whole ensemble feels contrived is far from enough, so let’s break it down.
Obviously, it’s Lady Gaga who was deemed the biggest star long before the premiere. Indeed, the biggest success of hers in House of Gucci (2021) is that she’s not the worst part of the movie. It’s Adam Driver who proudly carries the torch, delivering the most atrocious performance of his career. Forget his childish tantrums as Kylo Ren; as Maurizio Gucci, Driver’s barely noticeable. He’s invisible, a shadow of a character that theoretically plays the first string role. Knowing that Driver can do wonders – as he did in Paterson (2016) or A Marriage Story (2019) – it’s clearly a role that doesn’t fit him to any extent.
Back to Lady Gaga now. Together with Jared Leto, the two musicians-claiming-to-be-actors prove that acting requires lots of schooling. Lots and lots. While they do have what Driver lacks – charisma, that is – they seem to exist in two different cinematic worlds. Lady Gaga struggles with the Italian accent – although you do forget about it after an hour or so. She’s also hardly a presence to be reckoned with. The foundations of Gaga’s over-the-top role consist of weak one-liners, a handful of catwalk moments where she’s part of a Gucci commercial and about two scenes that actually leave an impression. Patrizia doesn’t draw us into her game, because the script spends little time to build her reasoning, and because Gaga’s plastic, more flashy than real. Moreover, in a year where Kristen Stewart shines bright in Spencer (2021), and Rebecca Ferguson nailed in Dune (2021), Gaga should humbly accept her defeat instead of sharing tales of how she stayed in character for months.
Anything else that happens on the acting side is equally sorrowful. Jared Leto masquerades an ugly Italian stereotype into acting; meanwhile all the supporting cast constantly looks for clues as to what’s their role in all this emotionless mayhem. Only Al Pacino saves the day with his concluding scene that made me feel something – the one and only time that happened over two-and-a-half hours runtime of House of Gucci (2021).
Admittedly, there are quality things about House of Gucci (2021) too. Dariusz Wolski embellishes this ugly duckling of a movie with exquisite splendor and if Scott’s film was to be judged by its rig, then the verdict changes dramatically. Special kudos go to Oscar-winner Janty Yates for her work on the costume design, which captures the glam and posh vibe of Gucci as a brand – something that Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci (2021) never grasps nor understands.
On a final note, I acknowledge the fact that House of Gucci (2021) will surely polarize like no other film this year. Some viewers will extol the virtues of Lady Gaga, or praise Scott for his eye for detail. Yet if you truly are tempted to watch the lavish lives of the rich, do yourself a favor and press play on HBO’s Succession. Witness all the backstabbing, the deceit, the lies, the psychological demolition and performances that contribute to something bigger; an even bigger sum of their separate greatness. That’s precisely what House of Gucci (2021) should have been, and sadly – is nowhere near.