Perhaps what’s most impressive—or, at least, most surprising—about House of Gucci is how it’s able to be at its best when it’s not trying to sympathize with its real-life personalities. Loosely based on the true story of the egocentric family behind the world-famous fashion empire, Ridley Scott’s glitzy, gleefully garish biopic opts not to take its story or characters too seriously, knowing full well that they see life as a game of sport rather than a game of chance.
Rather, House of Gucci is a sensationally speculative and sardonic interpretation of the events that eventually lead to the crumbling demise of a fashion dominion—at least, as far as this flamboyant family is concerned. Much like The Last Duel—Scott’s previous 2021 movie, though it wisely opted to be more serious and solicitous—House of Gucci is as willfully excessive as its extravagant precursor, even down to its bloated runtime, lavish backdrops, and often overzealous performances. Frankly, it’s all the better for these elements. Better to buy into and/or indulge in the fabulous fantasy than to accept the reality seems to be the belief of this erratic bloodline. As we make our way through this otherwise depressing tale, it’s easy to see why.
The film is based on Sara Gay Forden’s 2001 biography of the same name, with the added subtitle of A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed. House of Gucci follows Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a lowly young Italian socialite who knows that she’s destined for more than working with her father at a low-rent truck company. She desires fortune and fame, or maybe even infamy. But such aspirations don’t click into place until the fateful night when she meets Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), a mild-mannered, often-inelegant law student who happens to be the next heir to the luminous Gucci fortune.
Instantly, it’s love at last name. Patrizia does everything in her power to stalk and seduce this well-to-do, three-button suit man and make him realize that she’s the woman of his dreams. When Maurizio finally falls under her spell, however, he must come to the realization that his father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), will never accept this union. Following his heart rather than his wallet, Maurizio takes Patrizia’s hand in marriage despite the financial drawbacks, but it’s not until the newlyweds connect with the gregarious Aldo (Al Pacino) and, later, his buffoonish, bumbling son, Paolo (Jared Leto), that Patrizia’s plans for ill-gotten gain really goes into effect.
In terms of storytelling, House of Gucci can be as indelicate and inconsistent as these high-standing influencers. For instance, as noted before, Patrizia’s sole desire throughout the majority of the first act is to enter into the fabulous family by will and charisma alone. It’s often apparent that she values Maurizio’s money rather than his personality above all else. Yet, when it becomes clear that Maurizio wants to follow love rather than his inheritance, we never get that moment where Patrizia seems at odds with whether or not she truly loves this once-wealthy man.
That’s not to say that she’s in it for the long con, to be sure. But if we’re meant to believe, as the humorous first act portrays, that her interest in this rather awkward man comes from his wealth of influence rather than the enormity of his heart, then why don’t we see more of Patrizia’s reluctance to enter into this hap-dash marriage? Perhaps this is something that will become clear, like many shortcutted moments, in Scott’s inevitable three-hour director’s cut. As it stands, this version of House of Gucci might leave some audiences puzzled in terms of otherwise simple character motivations. And that’s before the rushed and rambunctious third act finally falls into place.
House of Gucci enraptures you in its luxurious spectacle, anyhow, since it makes it apparent that this is ultimately a long-winded, often morose comedy of errors. It’s a tragedy of mistrust and misdeeds as told as a ribald, outrageous odyssey into the ever-ludricous life of these operatic imbeciles. This is a comedy that’s playing to the guffaws of the backseats rather than to the pity of the front row.
Perhaps that will be considered in poor or inconsiderate taste, but when we’re dealing with the rich and the ridiculous, there’s always a separation from reality left in place. As soon as we step into Aldo’s palace of a vacation home, where we see a mountain of well-dressed men fighting like dogs in the yard while a beautiful Italian vista lays extravagant in the fringes of the frame, it’s apparent that Scott isn’t looking to mine empathy from these arrogant aristocrats. Rather, the veteran director lets himself indulge in a fantastical fantasy of his own lurid making.
Certainly, that’s made even more apparent from the slew of uneven performances from our all-star cast. Lady Gaga leads the proceedings here, and while she commits to the bit, there’s always a twinkle in her eye that lets you know that she’s here to have a ball. Driver, additionally, is charitable enough to let himself play the straight-laced straightman, avoiding with good grace the testerone-laced tenacity of his earlier performance, while also leaning into the sullen sulkness that we come to expect from the ever-impressive actor.
As for our supporting cast, Irons plays it dependably if not remarkably, particularly in how he doesn’t quite settle into his accent. Likewise, Pacino hams it up, as you would hope and expect—not quite to the fullest, but it’s clear that the movie is made duller whenever he isn’t parading around onscreen. Then there’s Leto, masquerading around with a thick “mamma mia!” voice, exaggerated hand-gestures, et. al. It’s quite likely the most bombastic performance in the movie, which is saying something, and it’s also perhaps the most bizarre.
By all accounts, Paolo Gucci is expected to be the most depressing character in the whole movie. He’s a mediocre fool who can’t prove his greatness to others, often to the detriment of himself and his family. Leto’s casting is interesting in that respect, particularly as the try-hard actor has previously demonstrated his tenacity to be taken uber seriously on plenty of occasions, often at the expense of his own projects. I can’t say he’s necessarily good here; even in a movie like this one, he’s simply too much of a caricature to sell the character. And yet, you can’t quite take your eyes off the guy. He’s so willfully indulging in this neurotic nitwit of a person, it’s clear that, for once, he’s on the right wavelength as the rest of the movie, finding a more comfortable home for his brand of intemperance acting.
While never standing on solid ground, House of Gucci ultimately falls apart in its insecure third act, when Scott understandably, but dangerously, tries to play it serious, losing the spark of the movie’s earlier, more enjoyable moments. Patrizia’s turn comes about in a rather hapdash way, particularly as the movie struggles to balance the narrative between the dividing factions of this fatal family. The result is an uneven, inconsistent conclusion to an otherwise melodramatic lark that’s often unafraid to recognize the darkly humorous depravity of this demented dynasty.
It’s a shame because House of Gucci is often quick to surprise in how gleefully denerate it is and how joyfully debauched it’s able to be with this high-caliber cast. This house of cards can’t stand the weight of its convictions. But for a decent while, at least, House of Gucci reigns supreme in the cooly comforts of its own fantastical farce.
House of Gucci opens in theaters starting November 24. Watch the full trailer here.