Ridley Scott’s depiction of the epic power struggles of the Gucci fashion empire arrives with plenty to unpack from fabulous designer cases; the Gucci family have weighed in with some disapproval, despite providing assistance during the film’s production. Their objection is on brand; the film, from Sara Gay Forden’s book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, reflects exactly that fierce sense of protection around the family’s history. But cinema is not PR, and Scott’s film aims at something other than just the facts; House of Gucci is an uber-glam snake-pit morality-tale, and even in its deliberate excesses, it’s a compulsive watch.
Various attempts have been made to film the book; Lady Gaga appears to have been a driving force to seal the deal, in her first starring role since 2019’s break-out A Star Is Born. She brings guile and stealth to her role as Patrizia Reggiani, who marries into the Gucci family via Maurizio (Adam Driver) to the overt disapproval of his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), who senses and fears the attentions of a gold-digger. Reggiani relishes getting involved with Rodolfo’s super-savvy NYC-based brother Aldo (Al Pacino) and his son, the wayward Paulo (Jared Leto) who has aspirations of his own. Reggiani unwisely seeks advice from a tv psychic (Selma Hayek) and demonstrates a sense of loyalty over rules by covering up an incomplete signature in Rodolfo’s legacy documents; this is a small but key detail, because it’s the first signifier of potential moral dangers ahead.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely over 158 minutes of House of Gucci, which immediately engages the eye with the fashions, jet-set lifestyles, sports cars and bubble-baths of the rich and famous. A rags to riches love story takes a darker direction as Patrizia Reggiani’s relationship with Maurizio Gucci turns hostile; he sneaks off to another’s arms, leaving her to vent at the family lawyer Domenico De Sole (Jack Huston in a scene-stealing turn). In fact, Scott’s film has plenty of juicy scenes worth stealing; Pacino brings great gravity to a boardroom showdown in which his knowledge of a shoe that belonged to Clark Gable proves an unexpected asset. Irons also sets the right tone of atrophy by playing a melancholy, inwardly anxious patriarch, but the film’s energy springs from the tempestuous relationship at the film’s core, where Lady Gaga and Driver strike sparks; the husband’s languid charm is splintered by his wife’s brazen, entitled sense of ambition.
With a narrative that stretches to witchcraft, Anna Wintour, bicycle clips, psychics, Tom Ford, arse-less chaps, and enough cigarette smoke to set off a fire-alarm, there’s no shortage of talking points here; the window-dressing is never less than dazzling. It’s a comforting dream of the poor that the rich could be so miserable, but Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci ably suggests a nightmare of collapsing loyalties, with a Grade-A cast focused on telling a wild story in a compelling, classy fashion.
Thanks to Universal for big screen access to this film.
House of Gucci is out in the UK and US from this Friday November 24th 2021.