Any discussion about House of Gucci must begin with a rundown of the family members in question. So let’s get to it, shall we?
- Our de facto protagonist is Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), who started out working for her father’s trucking company. She meets Maurizio Gucci at a random party encounter, and aggressively works to charm her way into marrying him.
- Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) is heir apparent to the venerable Gucci family business, except that he’s never been entirely comfortable with the high-class power brokering of his family. He’s even okay with being disinherited from the family so he can marry Patrizia.
- Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons) is Maurizio’s father and co-owner of the Gucci company. He’s a dinosaur who wants to keep the name and brand of Gucci pristine, so of course he doesn’t approve of Maurizio getting married to a transparent gold-digger.
- Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) is Rodolfo’s brother and the company’s other co-owner. He’s more liberal-minded, all too happy to mend bridges with family and pursue less conventional revenue streams. Unfortunately, this means watering down the Gucci brand by taking a cut off the sales of cheap knockoffs.
- Paolo Gucci (Jared Leto, almost unrecognizable under all the age makeup) is Aldo’s son. Trouble is, Paolo is commonly perceived as an idiot because he’s got delusions of genius as a designer, though his portfolio is mediocre at best.
The basic gist is that Rodolfo and Aldo are both getting visibly older, so the younger generation is jockeying for position and Patrizia is especially eager to secure wealth and power for herself and her husband. What follows are several years’ worth of betrayal and infidelity as the various family members either die or muscle each other out of the family/business one by one.
This all culminates in the events of March 27th, 1995, when Maurizio is brutally slain. Long story short, Patrizia was charged and convicted for the murder, and all the other Gucci family members of note were all dead by that point. Thus the Gucci fashion empire was taken public and there are no longer any Gucci family members in the Gucci company.
That’s not a spoiler, by the way, that’s the point.
This isn’t a “The Social Network” situation in which we follow the rise of a single protagonist who goes through the whole movie with plot armor. Everyone eventually gets taken out one way or another. Absolutely nobody is safe, which helps a lot with the dramatic tension.
Another factor is that as the film progresses, the characters get increasingly less sympathetic. Jeremy Irons’ character disinherits his son, Al Pacino plays a criminal dipshit, and does anyone even need a reason to hate Jared Leto? And of course we can’t forget Lady Gaga’s portrayal of a woman sliding further into unhinged lunacy as Adam Driver becomes everything he initially hated about the Gucci name, the both of them undone by their greed and pride. There is a certain kind of catharsis in watching rich shitbags get totally pulverized by their own misdoings come back to bite them.
But is this really all the film has to offer? Why pay good money to watch unlikable assholes destroy each other for two and a half hours? Well, I’d argue that there’s some positive takeaway in the notion that empires fall.
From start to finish, it’s repeatedly made clear that the Gucci name and brand have been reduced to a shiny yet hollow facade. The characters carry themselves as royalty, entitled to every luxury simply because they carry the family name. Paolo thinks he’s a genius, Aldo thinks he’s untouchable, Rodolfo and Maurizio both think they always know what’s best for the company, all because they were born into their family name. And none of them learn until it’s too late that names and bloodlines don’t amount to jack shit when it comes to being competent at anything.
It speaks volumes that the other characters — even Maurizio himself! — will talk down to Patrizia because she isn’t “a real Gucci.” What’s lost on everyone is that she earned that family name through wooing a family scion. What the hell did anyone else in the family ever do to earn that name and keep it worthy of greatness?
Yet even Patrizia was undone by her own faults. She’s all in favor of “taking out the trash”, and rightly so. But when she becomes the trash that needs taking out, she goes into a self-righteous tailspin.
Even the most powerful and wealthy among us is only human. As with all people, they must change with the times for any hope at thriving before they inevitably die. Nobody is invincible, and no institution is unassailable, no matter how huge they may appear. That is at once a sobering and/or comforting thought, depending on your point of view and the institution in question.
Of course, it perhaps bears mentioning that so much of the forced institutional change in this case is imposed by other rich old white men with the money and power to restructure everything for their own benefit. Then again, Patrizia didn’t have any of that when she came up through the ranks, and look at all the damage she did!
The whole film is superbly cast, with Lady Gaga and Adam Driver anchoring the film admirably. Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino are playing well within their established wheelhouses. I was delighted to see Salma Hayek show up in a small supporting role as Patrizia’s spiritual adviser. Jack Huston makes a small but notable appearance as the Gucci family fixer.
Then there’s Jared Leto. It perplexes me that Ridley Scott famously CGI’d Kevin Spacey out of his picture, yet he’ll work with this particular alleged scumbag. Then again, it certainly helps that Leto is all but unrecognizable under all that makeup, and he’s managed to keep his career at least somewhat afloat by playing hate sinks.
That said, it bears mentioning that Leto plays such a cartoonish Italian stereotype, it’s almost like he’s acting in a different movie altogether. In fact, I could say the same for Al Pacino and everyone else in the cast to a lesser extent. The Italian accents and stereotypes fluctuate wildly across the board, and that has a significant impact on the film’s tone. It’s borderline impossible to take an Italian character seriously when they talk like freaking Mario, so it’s hard to know how seriously we should take these characters (and thus the whole movie) when that over-the-top characterization fluctuates so drastically.
On a final miscellaneous note, it’s worth mentioning Alessandra Gucci, the young daughter to Patrizia and Maurizio. She never even gets a line, and the character is played by multiple young actors. Thus the movie uses her growth to illustrate the passage of time without excessive use of title cards. Neat touch. Of course, the filmmakers also throw in some sweet period needle-drops to set the tone and illustrate the passage of time.
But how does House of Gucci stack up against Ridley Scott’s other big Oscar contender this year? Sorry, but The Last Duel is unquestionably the better film. Duel has the stronger cast, it’s far more timely and incisive, and that triptych structure makes a far stronger narrative hook than anything Gucci has. I might add that they’re both padded at two-and-a-half hours, but Duel at least had the justification of portraying three different perspectives. Gucci is merely a film that takes place over a decade, though does a decent job of compressing those years into 150 minutes.
It’s a well-made film, to be sure, but I’m disappointed that the film didn’t come into any kind of thematic focus until the closing minutes. Even then, there’s a sense of unfulfilled potential, like the movie wanted to be so much flashier and more potent than it ultimately was.
This one gets a rental recommendation. It’s worth seeing for Lady Gaga and Adam Driver alone, but it might be a good idea to wait and see if Oscar voters will take the bait.