There’s a moment early in House of Gucci when you realize that all those characters speaking in outrageous Italian accents are actually in Italy. There could hardly be a clearer signal: this is one of those movies. To paraphrase Chief Brody, you’re gonna need a bigger popcorn tub.
At 158 minutes, House of Gucci is as gratuitously over-the-top as the luxury brand at its center. Director Ridley Scott uses his under-appreciated gift for capturing character beats to fill the true crime saga with moments that will make you grin, even guffaw. If the pathos doesn’t quite play, that’s fine; the film doesn’t expect you to feel bad for any of these characters with their gold-leafed insoles.
House of Gucci broke the internet this spring when Lady Gaga shared a production photo of her Patrizia Reggiani in the arms of Adam Driver’s Maurizio Gucci. (Suffice it to say that House of Gucci is vastly better than the other Driver movie Scott made this year.) Her hat? Fur. His glasses? Vast. The setting? Snow. Their necks? Turtled. Not since the Minnesota Orchestra played Star Wars have I seen as many audience members in themed outfits as I did at the House of Gucci preview screening, where the awkwardness of pairing glasses and face masks didn’t stop any of several patrons who showed up in fur coats.
They had the right idea. Although House of Gucci is fun, don’t expect froth. It’s a Godfather-scale family saga worthy of its Reagan-era setting, complete with Al Pacino blowing up and Jeremy Irons looking cadaverously inscrutable. There’s even a dumb cousin in the person of Paolo Gucci, played with seismic relish by Jared Leto. The only performance more aply over-the-top is by production designer Arthur Max, who paints ’80s excess in vivid detail. At the screening I saw, no line of dialogue earned as big a laugh as a pair of butterfly car doors.
While the film doesn’t strain too hard to plumb its characters’ depths, screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna — working from Sara Gay Forden’s 2001 history of the events leading up to Maurizio’s 1995 murder — do keep the story appreciably anchored to a spine, provided by Gaga with ramrod conviction. Her Patrizia isn’t particularly dynamic, but her certainty that she knows what’s best for Gucci makes her a fine foil for Driver, a portrait of male weakness. Maurizio’s first weakness is for Patrizia, whose fatal error (well, fatal for Maurizio) is to believe it will be his last.
In the end, the joke’s on all of the Guccis — and those who would be Guccis. In building a brand, the film argues, the family built a monster that consumed them. What most pointedly distinguishes House of Gucci from similar stories, apart from the gleeful performances both in front of and behind the camera, is that at no point does anyone labor under the misapprehension that their money is making them miserable. Misery, they can live with. Money, they couldn’t live without. Pass the popcorn, and don’t forget the truffle dust.
Photo: Lady Gaga in House of Gucci. Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.