Cinema Dispatch: House of Gucci

House of Gucci and all the images you see in this review are owned by United Artists Releasing

Directed by Ridley Scott

It’s that time of year where the big performances come out, the A-List directors strut their stuff, and the biopics are as far as the eye can see!  Oscar season is in full swing and Ridley Scott is doubling down this year with two prestige films; both of which star Adam Driver, funnily enough.  Now I don’t know the first thing about Gucci or the story behind the family, and the closest I’ve ever been to designer clothes is seeing them in shop windows.  Still, stories about the grimy underbelly of powerful families and giant corporations can be very entertaining (provided they aren’t poisoning the planet or something like that), and while Scott can be hit or miss with a lot of his projects, the good ones can REALLY stand out in an otherwise crowded and lukewarm award season.  Does this movie capture the whirlwind drama around one of the most recognizable brands in the world and the eccentric family that built it, or is the only interesting thing about this family the name they carry?  Let’s find out!!

Our story begins with Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) as a young up-and-coming socialite who may not come from a truly wealthy family, but she’s ambitious and wants to prove herself as a woman to take seriously!  Well, she’s in luck because one of the parties she goes to is where she meets Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the son of Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons) who is the current head of the Gucci business along with his brother Aldo (Al Pacino).  Whether or not she truly had feelings for him is ultimately secondary as her Prince Charming was in her sights and she was not about to let this opportunity go!  Over time the two get close and Maurizio agrees to marry her, but it’s clear her wants very little to do with the family business as he’s seen how it has turned his family bitter and cold; including his cousin Paolo (Jared Leto) who may be jovial on the outside but is nursing some serious resentments that threaten to bubble up in unpredictable and inopportune ways.  Patrizia is having none of that wishy-washy nonsense from her husband however, and pushes him to get more and more involved.  In fairness, was more than likely to happen with or without Patrizia’s involvement, but with her at his side, he’s poised to not just be A Gucci, but to become THE Gucci!  Does this tale of power, wealth, family drama, and high-end clothing have a happy ending for the ambitious Patrizia?  What makes Maurizio different from the rest of the family, and will this aggressive push from her wife make him the very thing he didn’t want to become?  I know we got a MacBeth movie pretty recently, but any chance we can get another one so Gaga can be in it?

“I lost out to The Favorite, did I? Fine! I’ll show them what a REAL Queen looks like!”

Biopics are not an easy thing to pull off because while the true story may cover a lot of ground as far as characterizations, story beats, and emotional struggles, rarely does a person’s life follow a three-act structure to tell a satisfying story.  A lot of movies struggle with squaring that particular circle, and while I’ll give this movie credit for a lot of things, it fails harder at that than any recent example I can think of except maybe Bohemian Rhapsody.  The filmmakers and actors worked their butts off to create a thrilling period piece with dynamic characters full of greed, envy, fear, and ego, but trying to string these individual pieces into a coherent narrative proved to be a far too difficult a task to accomplish.  It’s a mess as far as pacing and structure with little regard to connecting scenes beyond the broadest of strokes, but within those individual scenes, you will find pieces of a truly great movie.  I can certainly appreciate it on that level as there are movies I like that work better in pieces than sitting through it as a whole (*cough* The Big Short *cough*), but when you’re pushing three hours with nary a plot in site, well even the best of performances would struggle to keep it all from collapsing like a house of cards.

“I’ve got it! Gucci playing cards!” “We already have those.” “Okay, uh… how about NUDE Gucci playing cards?”

I could sit you down and show you almost any scene in the movie, and make a convincing case that it’s an Oscar-caliber film because there’s no aspect to what we see on the screen that is done half-heartedly.  Everything from the sets and cinematography, to the costumes and performances, immerse you in this world of rich weirdos who feed of each other and can seemingly only express themselves through displays of wealth and power.  For some, it has irrevocably warped their view of reality like Rodolfo whose stubbornness and grief have kept him isolated from the rest of the world, and Paolo who funnels his need for attention and validation through incompetent ventures.  Others maintain a clearer head like Aldo who seems to have a fuller and richer understanding of life in general, but even the supposed good ones cannot escape the pitfalls of hoarded wealth and the need to maintain power.  If there’s anything truly at the core of the movie, it’s the allure of such an obscene lifestyle and the lengths many will go to maintain it once they get a taste.  Gaga and Adam Driver make an interesting pair that do a great job of covering the various aspects of this dynamic; Patrizia’s ambition leading Maurizio to go down a path he spent his life trying to avoid, and her wish becoming more of a Monkey’s Paw situation as the years wear on and the accumulated weight of their deeds threatens to bury them.  It’s a lot of great ideas swirling around a properly fleshed out world, but if there’s anything that didn’t click with me about the movie’s aesthetic, it’s that the colors are pretty washed out which I’m sure is to convey the coldness of the Gucci family and the harsh world they all try to survive in, but I think it worked too well and muted a lot of scenes that could have used more energy. 

“Can’t you tell by our stern faces that this is our characters’ turning point!?”     “But you could learn the error of your ways, right?”     “The coldness of this color palette says otherwise…”

Where the movie truly struggles though is trying to take all this material and make a cohesive narrative.  It is definitely the greatest challenge of a biopic like this, but even giving some leeway to that reality, this movie still manages to fail rather astoundingly at it.  It almost feels like it was a challenge so overwhelming that Ridley Scott didn’t even bother to try and work around it to instead just leave it in the hands of the editors to try and cobble something together with the footage he shot.  Great footage to be sure, but there’s no connective tissue anywhere in the movie to get us from scene to scene.  We jump through time constantly without any indication that we’ve done so (not even a fade cut to symbolize the passage of time) and the fact that no one ages significantly makes it even harder to pinpoint when we are in the story.  Maurizio and Patrizia were married for over two decades, but it never comes close to feeling like that much time had passed in the movie.  Occasionally you’ll get period-specific indicators like Teddy Ruxpin and Tom Ford, but those come long after we’ve advanced the timeline so it feels like we’re constantly playing catchup in the movie.  That would have helped significantly is a sense of continuity between scenes; some sort of connective tissue to tell us where we are now and why we had to jump from the previous scene to this one.  Wolf of Wall Street used fourth-wall-breaking narrations to pull this off and I feel that something like that here would have been a strong thread that could carry us from scene to scene.  This would have also helped with the other problem in the structure of the movie and that’s how there are almost no setups and payoffs with a lot of the major decisions characters make being done off-screen.  In a movie that does such a great job immersing you into their world and providing raw emotional performance, it’s jarring that the plot remains so evasive, but that’s what you have to hammer out when you choose to make a biopic with this scope, and it just doesn’t feel like they put the work in to make it all fit together.

“Who the heck stitched this thing together; Paolo?”     “Did you call for me?”     “No, shut up.”     “Are you sure?  Maybe you could look at my designs if you have a minute?”     “No, now shut up!”

The struggle to find a through-line is not just in the nuts and bolts of the plot, but in the theming as well as it never quite finds a good reason why the movie and its story are important.  As I said, there is something to the idea of greed being something of an addiction, with the dizzying highs and the tragic lows, but it’s not the only thing that the movie is doing and everything else feels pretty muddled.  A lot of this comes to a head in the third act where the big emotional payoffs are to occur, but they ring somewhat hollow as tales of human tragedy given how we’re supposed to feel throughout the rest of the movie.  I’ll give the movie credit for the story having a very big ending, but the downfall of the Gucci’s feels much more mundane (and frankly like the highest tier of first world problems) than the movie wants you to believe.  Perhaps that’s a failure on my part as the movie does its best to ingratiate us within the world that these people live in, but it’s hard to feel sympathy for billionaires who don’t even seem to be that good at their job, and watching them face rather straightforward and justifiable consequences (aside from the one REALLY big one) doesn’t feel like we’re watching the Shakespearian downfall of tragic heroes.

“Give it to me straight; what do the cards say?”     “Eh, I mean it’s not GREAT, but it could be worse.”

If this does get any awards buzz, it will be for some of the isolated elements that shine brightly like its costuming and several of its performances.  Sadly, it fails to put them all together in a satisfying way which leads to a very uneven viewing experience; marveling at the craftsmanship and the drama one minute only to be pulled back out when they move on to something else without warning or resolution.  It’s unfortunately not something that I would recommend seeing in theaters simply because of how long it is and how its wonky pacing only exacerbates that problem, but it is still a movie I recommend seeing at some point because of just how strong the movie is on a scene to scene basis.  Whether or not this gest the Oscar nods it’s looking for remains to be seen, but I can see myself enjoying it at home where you can watch it when things are interesting and check out when they start to jump all over the place. 

3.5 out of 5

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