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House of Gucci
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna
Starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver and Al Pacino
Classification R; 157 minutes
Opens in theatres Nov. 26
Ridley Scott is having one hell of a pandemic. Last month, the 83-year-old filmmaker delivered The Last Duel, an epic medieval morality tale that, while bombing at the box office due to those pesky millennials, has lingered longer in my mind than almost any other big-studio effort this cursed year. Now, just a little more than a month later, Scott is back at the multiplex with House of Gucci, another gargantuan drama about sex, lies and power, but with better haircuts. It is not nearly as engaging or entertaining as The Last Duel – it is, at times, nakedly and bewilderingly bad – but you have to admire Scott’s energy.
Following the rise and fall of the titular Italian clan, Scott’s film pivots on the fraught marriage between Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), an aspiring lawyer who has no real desire to join the family fashion business, and Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), the daughter of working-class folk who practically whispers “ka-ching!” the moment that she meets Maurizio at a party in 1970. Once together, Patrizia pushes her husband to take control of Gucci, resulting in various tensions between him and taciturn father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), gregarious uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), ridiculous cousin Paolo (Jared Leto) and reserved company executive Domenico De Sole (Jack Huston).
So, House of Gucci is a movie about a family at war with itself – yet Scott’s film is engaged in its own distracting skirmishes, with battles messily waged over tone, genre and performance.
In one fabulously appointed corner, House of Gucci offers a gleeful dose of high-gloss camp. Its ripped-from-the-tabloids tale is perfect fodder for a go-for-broke exercise in 70s-era excess – a sensibility that Gaga, Pacino and Leto (the latter hidden underneath pounds of Paul Giamatti-style prosthetics) immediately recognize, supersizing their performances with the maniacal devotion of coked-up dinner-theatre veterans. (This is a compliment!) When Gaga makes a faux-promise to Paolo with the line, “Father, Son, House of Gucci” in a deliciously bad Italian accent – the worst I’ve heard since 2018′s instant Canadian cult-crap-classic Little Italy – it is Scott’s cue for us to eat this exorbitantly priced cheese up before it curdles.
Yet in another, far more staid corner, Scott is busy working away on a prestige Oscar-pitched picture, one that wants to offer a stern lesson on what happens when we let the pleasures of greed blind us to the importance of family. He seems to have enlisted the other half of his cast, notably Driver, Irons and Huston, for this particularly dull mission, with the actors treating the truly unhinged drama swirling around them as dead-serious affairs of the heart.
Unfortunately, this clash of sensibilities never resolves itself, resulting in a movie that is deaf to its own tones, and blind to its sometimes fabulous colours.
And for all the time that Scott takes to tell his story – The Last Duel was nearly as long, yet felt twice as tight – the director and his two screenwriters, Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, neglect to include the narrative basics. Just how does the Gucci company operate? Who is responsible for the designs? Who makes the corporate decisions, Aldo or Rodolfo? What makes the Gucci brand so special, besides the characters’ propensity for repeating their last name as if daring audiences to start a fatal drinking game? By the time the film introduces designer Tom Ford (Reeve Carney) as a revitalizing Gucci force, we’ve stopped trying to situate the company as a real-world entity that makes any working sense.
This isn’t the first time that Scott has stumbled while exploring the dark corridors of family wealth (see 2017′s All the Money in the World, a supremely messy film nearly saved by a last-minute Christopher Plummer performance). But House of Gucci is the first time in Scott’s lengthy and intimidating career that he has so brutally head-butted tones and confused intentions. As Leto’s cartoonish, Fredo-Corleone-meets-Super-Mario character Paolo might say, mama mia, Ridley. Mamma mia!
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.