Ridley Scott is definitely on a roll. The legendary 83-year-old director is releasing his second movie in two months, after The Last Duel, both made during the height of the pandemic. And while neither is a total winner, both are pretty solid in their own ways. House of Gucci is one of many films I’ve seen this year that I undoubtedly have problems with, but ultimately enjoyed the experience thoroughly. It’s uneven, overlong, messy, occasionally baffling and more or less consistently fascinating throughout.
Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) comes from a humble background, and works for her father’s business that has implied mob ties. Once she catches the eye of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at a party, she quickly marries her way into the iconic fashion label. As she slowly weasels her way into the family and the company, she drives a wedge between Maurizio and his father (Jeremy Irons), and befriends his uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), and his loser son Paolo (Jared Leto). This leads to a string of events that culminates in the infamous murder of one of Gucci’s own.
Ridley Scott seems to be approaching this as a Goodfellas-esque crime saga at certain points, and like a delightfully trashy soap opera at others. And the tone never settles on one of these extremes, and it’s a bit of a mess throughout. It almost feels as if this should be a Netflix miniseries directed by Ryan Murphy. Say what you will about the Murphy-verse, but he leans into camp like no other, and the camp side of this is definitely stronger than the crime saga side. We also meet Tom Ford at a certain point, and I’m reminded of what an exciting filmmaker he became, with A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals. It might have been fun if he tackled this material as well. David Fincher also would have killed this. With this exact cast. And a different screenwriter.
It also doesn’t help that no two actors seem to be on the same page about what movie they’re in. Certain performances are definitely stronger than others here. Jared Leto is giving a ridiculous performance that makes his Suicide Squad Joker look tame, and I’m not sure if this is brilliant or terrible. I think it’s kind of both. Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons are good, even though neither is doing an accent. Adam Driver is barely doing an accent, but still has that natural charisma he always does. Salma Hayek is unhinged in a good way. The only actor who seems to consistently know what movie they’re in is Lady Gaga.
Lady Gaga is giving an intensely method, staggeringly specific performance, and she’s a lot more fun to watch than she was in A Star is Born. I think this is a better performance overall, and it’s pretty much entirely because she has to do a lot more of the heavy lifting here. While Bradley Cooper’s direction complimented her performance, Ridley Scott throws her to the wolves, and she comes out fighting viciously. The cinematography and direction and especially the script are doing her no favors and she’s bringing so much more to the film than literally anyone else in this A-list cast. She’s easily the best thing in this movie. She’s mastered the withering scowl in such a specific way, and her performance highlights her range, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
House of Gucci should have been a 10-hour HBO miniseries. There’s too much and not enough here, fascinating moments are skipped through and less interesting sequences last forever. Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna’s script is all over the place, and during the end credits, when you see what became of various characters, and when they died, you think to yourself, wait, that happened within the timeline of this movie. And I guess we just skipped over it, these important characters dying, because the screenwriters remembered in the last ten minutes, oh yes, this famously salacious murder happened. Also the script kind of sidelines Lady Gaga in the third act, and she’s pretty much the only interesting thing in this movie. Gaga is still establishing herself as an actress, I guess, but I think someone who didn’t leave her first Oscar night empty handed, definitely could have demanded a script rewrite.
There are so many endless sequences of men sitting around in suits talking about numbers and figures, and there’s an interesting way to do that (look at HBO’s Succession), but House of Gucci operates as if it’s a serious drama, and it’s a very uneven experience throughout. It’s not really a movie about fashion, and that’s a shame. It’s a consistently entertaining drama about the lust for power, and the desire for infamy, but it’s an easy film to pick apart and think about how it could be better. However, Lady Gaga is always doing something interesting and is consistently challenging your expectations of her, and what she can do in this kind of role. She’s thrilling to watch, and her performance definitely deserves awards recognition. Nothing else in House of Gucci does though.