House of Gucci is an epic family saga that fully embraces the campy ridiculousness, big accents, and scandalous intrigue of one of fashion’s biggest names. Before seeing the film, I knew very little about the Gucci family in general, with minimal knowledge of the Italian brand itself beyond being obscenely expensive. I had not the slightest idea as to the breadth of scandal that comes with the family name. Based on the book by Sara Gay Forden, House of Gucci dives headfirst into the decadent lifestyles of the rich, while supplying muted social commentary. Prolific director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator) makes up for a lack of filmmaking style with a loving admiration for each and every stellar acting performance. As a clear Oscar-hopeful slot in the release schedule, I would be shocked in particular if Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, and Jared Leto do not at least walk away securing nominations.
The Gucci family seems to be a well-oiled machine well before the chance meeting between Maurizio Gucci (Driver) and Patrizia Reggiani (Gaga). After their encounter at a party, Patrizia semi-stalks and seduces the quiet Maurizio, writing her phone number in lipstick on his motorcycle and insisting that she wants “to see where this story goes.” Eventually, she meets Maurizio’s stuffy father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), who adamantly forbids Maurizio from marrying her and remains convinced that Patrizia is merely after his money. Patrizia’s background working for her father’s ‘ground transportation’ company in particular is a constant point of contention. From the moment of her bold entrance to her office job, Gaga emboldens Patrizia with a certain swagger and confidence to her character; her ambition and longing for more is present even from the initial introductions.
Despite Rodolfo’s pleas of discouragement, Maurizio marries Patrizia, content to take a job with her father washing trucks and leaving the family behind. However, an invitation to the birthday celebration of Maurizio’s uncle, Aldo (Al Pacino), will change it all forever. Aldo gifts the couple with two plane tickets to New York that carry with them the potential to change their lives. Patrizia falls in love with the glitz and glamour of the rich lifestyle, and urges Maurizio to reconcile with his ailing father before it is too late. Meanwhile, his cousin Paolo (an utterly unrecognizable Jared Leto) desperately tries to get his father Aldo to utilize his designs for Gucci. Patrizia’s hunger for wealth and power grows stronger, as the couple gains greater control of the Gucci family business. Consulting constantly with a “discreet and accurate” TV medium named Pina (Salma Hayek), Patrizia becomes convinced that she is destined to be legendary.
Make no mistake, this is a film brimming with A-list talent and juicy dialogue. From top to bottom, the majority of the casting choices really managed to pay off. The biggest gamble of the ensemble was probably Jared Leto, but yet again, he proves to be an indomitable talent that is able to completely disappear inside of a character. His late-in-the-game rant about never confusing “shit with chocolate” had my audience squealing in delight. Another moment where he goes off in horror about his father “dropping the soap” in prison made me laugh out loud. Paolo and his father Aldo serve as the majority of the comic relief, so it serves then that Leto and Pacino share a number of scenes together. The duo have a natural chemistry; this is probably the most I have loved Pacino in a film for quite some time, excluding his phenomenal turn in Amazon Prime show, Hunters. As something of a side character, Salma Hayek’s Pina always steals the show as a kooky fortune teller/crazy cat lady.
My two favorite performances come in the form of Lady Gaga and Adam Driver’s portrayal of the figureheads behind this era of change in the Gucci empire. Gaga has impressed me before in both A Star is Born and American Horror Story: Hotel, but this is a completely different type of role for her. It allows her to go into full-tilt obsessive Single White Female mode, her love for Maurizio twisting into possessive obsession as their wealth grows exponentially. Patrizia essentially sets into motion the events of the film, and her destructive power hangs over each sequence like a dark stormy cloud. On the flip side, Maurizio seems to change for the better amid Patrizia’s influence. He sheds the naive shell of a man trying to distance himself from the family, and becomes a fully-realized person with newfound purpose and confidence. The toxic relationship between the two of them ushers in a new era of Gucci that, for better or worse, is the precursor to the Gucci we know today.
Performances aside, House of Gucci is not without its flaws. Abrupt editing and awkward transitions abound, as if they were unsure how to progress from one scene to the next. It can frequently be jarring to jump straight from A to B, asking the viewer to be okay with two emotional extremes within seconds of one another. The dates are also rarely displayed on screen, and used a frustratingly sparing amount. Quite a few of the big moments needed just a tad more breathing room for maximum effect, instead of rushing into the next event.
How can one fault the movie as a whole though when it is this much fun to watch? The captivating performances and the willingness to embrace the outrageous decadence and humor make it practically a home run. So many biopics have the same exact formula, so unless one cares about what is happening around a checklist of events, the film is dead in the water. House of Gucci never succumbs to its flaws, still managing to make for one supremely entertaining depiction of gasp-worthy drama. The acting remains some of the best I have seen all year, with Lady Gaga completely stealing the show.
House of Gucci puts its sweet, seductive name on the lips of every viewer when it debuts exclusively in theaters on Wednesday, November 24th.