Style Over Substance: A Review of “House of Gucci”
Issue 8, Volume 112
From the first shot, “House of Gucci” is decorated with wealth: expensive watches, fitted suits, and beautiful Italian mansions. Directed by Ridley Scott, known for films including “Alien” (1979) and “Blade Runner” (1982), “House of Gucci” illustrates the shifts of power in the wealthy Gucci family as Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) tries to take control and modernize the Gucci brand, destroying the family in the process. “House of Gucci” marks Scott’s second directorial project of 2021 as his last project “The Last Duel” came out in October and received mixed reviews. While “House of Gucci” built up much anticipation because it was in development for nearly 10 years, it did not have a glowing reception.
In “House of Gucci,” Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the son of Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons), attempts to distance himself from the Gucci family fortune in exchange for a happier and more substantive life as a lawyer. He meets Patrizia and uses her as a gateway into a humbler existence, working at her father’s truck company and living in a modest home. However, Patrizia’s ambition and obvious desire for wealth force him back into the politics of the Gucci family. Patrizia extends her influence all over the company, creating rivalries, putting people in prison, destroying dreams, and crumbling the whole family in her wake. As soon as Maurizio becomes wise to her intentions, it seems to be too late. “House of Gucci” shows him trying to clean up her mess, with constant interference from people in and outside the family, all trying to claim a portion of the company and its legacy.
One would think that the lengthy runtime (more than two and a half hours) would be more than enough to properly illustrate the intricacies of the family dynamics and character intentions, but the film mysteriously fails to pull this off. Everything seems simultaneously too hurried and too drawn out. There are long scenes where the sole purpose is to show the extravagance of the Gucci family, like repetitive meetings in Gucci stores across the world, while we see little of the substance of Maurizio and Patrizia’s marriage, a main pillar of the film. The first half-hour is dedicated to showing Maurizio and Patrizia meeting and falling in love. However, these scenes feel rushed and confused, so that the viewer is left with no investment in their marriage or proof of their love for one another, making later “heartbreaking” scenes illustrating their divorce predictable. The film hides the actual passion of their marriage but references it as if it’s plain to see. This is seen throughout the film: complicated relationships are referenced without being substantially developed.
From the first scene between Maurizio and Patrizia, it is clear that Lady Gaga and Adam Driver have no chemistry. Though the first encounter is intended to be awkward, it ends up being just uncomfortable due to Gaga’s overacting. This pattern continues throughout the film, as Gaga’s over-the-top approach overshadows Driver’s more subtle and effective acting.
This is a recurring issue as throughout the film Gaga takes her acting way too seriously without necessarily having the experience and chops off the other actors on screen. Dramatic confrontations between her and Maurizio are hard to take seriously and are painful for the viewer to endure, as when Gaga throws an overwrought temper tantrum. Similar things can be said for Paolo Gucci (Jared Leto), who is an aspiring fashion designer man-child with a tragic story: he is born into extreme wealth but dies in poverty after being cast aside. Leto’s performance diminishes this backstory, as it feels forced and unbelievable because of his thick, unrealistic, and stereotypical Italian accent.
This is a common theme and the largest fault of “House of Gucci”: it fails to find a consistent tone, often forcing comedy where there should really be tragedy. The shuffle between being camped and being serious fails to create a sense of sympathy for the characters, failing to expand on their true motivations and feelings. The post-script that appears at the end of the film feels entirely less somber than it should because the movie didn’t put in the work to help the audience understand the true tragedy of the story. This lack of a consistent tone raises different questions for “House of Gucci,” primarily whether it is a character or plot-driven story. It’s unsuccessful either way, as the characters aren’t fully fleshed out or able to be taken seriously, and there isn’t a consistent and appropriate tone that effectively and concisely illustrates the plot.
Yet while “House of Gucci” falls short on many fronts, there are a few standout aspects, including the visuals. It is evident that Ridley Scott and the production team are masters of creating pleasing aesthetics: each location feels perfectly picked, each outfit creaseless and glamorous, and the color palettes are pleasing. These components combine to create visually stunning scenes whether set on a farm in Milan, the snowy ski hills of Switzerland, or various mansions, chateaus, and apartments scattered across the world. The locations capture the sense of grandeur the movie aims to convey and make for a pleasant watching experience that can help distract from problematic acting.
The story is another great aspect of the film. The history of the Gucci company is fascinating, and the film brings out themes of family versus outsiders, the cost of success, the depths of jealousy, and the desire for inner peace. It is because of this that the mishandling of it is all the more frustrating—there was potential for a truly impactful and significant film.
Even with its star-studded cast, “House of Gucci” finds itself plagued by overacting, two-dimensional characters, and loss of focus on its most important elements, but finds an ounce of redemption with its impressive visuals and interesting story. This is not enough to save it; the film ultimately fails to deliver a truly impactful ending that would do justice to all of its characters.