Scarcely has the gulf between potential drama and actual drama been so wide as in House Of Gucci, a movie that seems to promise the messiest, most camp soap opera of the year and ends up delivering something like a gloriously costumed, overlong recap of a movie that happened somewhere offscreen. After almost two hours and 40 minutes of movie it left me feeling little beyond an intense craving for a tiny espresso.
How could this have happened? We all saw the trailer. Gawked at the magazine-style photoshoots. Made the memes. The ridiculous outfits! The ridiculous accents! Jared Leto disastrously overacting! House of Gucci looked to all like a full-length, maximum budget adaptation of the Italian hands emoji. Yes, in fact, we wouldst like to live deliciously. What happened?
At first, at least, the ingredients for delicious living all seem to be in place. Lady Gaga might not be the rangiest actress around but she is transfixing, practically pulsating with short Italian girl energy like a future Real Housewife Of Milan as Patrizia Reggiani, the striving secretary of her father’s trucking company. Papa! You work-a too hard! Come-a take emuppa resta letta Patrizia make-a you a-nice a-cuppa di espresso!
Then when she meets Mauritzio Gucci at a house party one night, you can practically hear a tiny popping sound as her ovaries explode at the mere mention of his famous last name. A little striver, this one. Meanwhile, Adam Driver, as Mauritzio, is brilliant once again, awkwardly upright, confidently dorky, a glorious human sight gag clipping the legs of his trousers before biking off down cobblestoned boulevards as beatifically as if starring in his own Barilla commercial. Ah, to be rich.
What Patrizia lacks in reach she makes up for in persistence and soon the two are married, to the objections of Mauritzio’s louche former actor father, played by Jeremy Irons in full ascot mode. Patrizia, naturally, lights a fire under Mauritzio’s calzone oven, trying to get him to man up and claim his birthright in the Gucci brand. Which at that point is mostly controlled by Mauritzio’s uncle, Aldo Gucci, played by Al Pacino. Aldo is just about as keen as Patrizia to get Mauritzio involved, seeing as how Aldo’s son and only heir, Paolo Gucci, played by Jared Leto, is clearly a moron with terrible taste.
As for Jared Leto’s acting: Do you know how hard it is to overact while playing an Italian? Leto is playing the comically stupid nephew in an operatic movie set in a country where everyone already looks like they’re starring in their own soap opera, opposite one of the greatest overactors of our time, Al Pacino. And still, STILL he manages to overact so hard that you can imagine Nic Cage telling him to tone it down. I don’t even know what accent he’s doing here, but he sounds like if Borat was a schizophrenic child molester.
But Jared Leto overacting was what I expected, and honestly the thought of him torturing all his acquaintances with that moronic accent while staying in character for months on end makes me happy. The bigger issue is that the movie’s conflicts never quite materialize. In one scene, Patrizia walks through Chinatown in New York, becoming increasingly furious as she sees all the knockoff Gucci bags being sold openly. She gathers up a bunch of them to bring to the office to confront Aldo about it. Aldo seems unconcerned. “If some housewife in Long Island wants to believe she is a Gucci customer, why should I stop her?”
“But they are cheapening the Gucci name!” Patrizia blusters.
Both of them seem like they have valid points, but the bigger issue is: the conflict never resolves and the pieces don’t even really fit together. Is Gucci making money off people selling cheap knockoffs? If so, how? If they wanted to stop people selling knockoffs, how would even they do that? Basically, the entire movie is like this. Characters disagree on points that don’t entirely make sense, fighting over control of a company without ever conveying any idea of how their visions for that company might diverge. Or how those visions might play in the market. Maurizio and Patrizia don’t really grow apart, it just sort of happens at some point and we’re left to infer. At one point, Maurizio says, “I want Gucci to be the Vatican of fashion.”
So… opulent? In decline? Shuffling around designers to cover up their pedophilia? What is even going on here? House of Gucci feels like a series of facts in search of a story. It’s a long montage of gorgeously shot, sumptuously costumed scenes lacking any real sense of cause and effect. What is any of it supposed to mean, beyond all the rich people bitchily drinking espressos? In a movie that runs almost 160 minutes we should probably get some sense of it. In fairness, it did make me really crave a cigarette and a tiny coffee in an apres-ski situation somewhere in the Alps.
But for the most part, it feels like the second straight movie in which Ridley Scott probably figured his first-rate direction could overcome a second-rate script. Lots of times it probably can, but that’s the nature of gambling: sometimes you lose.