The trailer for Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci showed a lot of promise as something of an antidote to the heavy themes and historical grandeur of the director’s first 2021, The Last Duel. However, as much as one might want House of Gucci to lean into the goofier personas of its characters, the excessiveness of the 1980s and the melodrama of a family tearing itself apart in the name of wealth, the film is at odds with itself; caught between the dueling goals of trashy fun and character study prestige.
This isn’t to say that House of Gucci outright fails at either objective. Far from it. Framing the transformation of the Gucci family business as the domino result of a narcissistic bride (Lady Gaga) working her unambitious husband (Adam Driver) into making ruthless power grabs is a fine avenue for either approach.
Lady Gaga’s performance showcases how both sides of the spectrum can work quite well together. On one hand, she demonstrates the kind of mindset that could snake its way to the height of the fashion industry while at the same time rely heavily on a hotline psychic turned pampered personal confidant (Salma Hayek) for realistic life advise. On the other, the seriousness with which we are meant to take her conniving modulates wildly from scene to scene; sometimes deadly foreboding, other times campily exaggerated.
One might think the film’s serious side, represented primarily by Driver’s character, Maurizio, would win out over the film’s comic relief efforts, but Maurizio is such a stoic persona it’s hard to get a bead on his arc through much more than implication. There’s a story in here about a man tempted into throwing familial loyalty under the bus, pushed there by a disapproving father (Jeremy Irons) and pulled in by a manipulative uncle (Al Pacino), who is disappointed in his own floundering heir (Jared Leto). It’s compelling in a Shakespearian way, but Maurizio’s journey from ethically-minded attorney to flamboyant wealth monster is not marked by any change in personality, only by other characters’ reactions to him.
It’s no surprise then that the supporting cast tends to steal the show, providing a reality television-level chaos that can transform the dry recounting of business deals into a delicious descent into backstabbing and betrayal. The fact that nobody’s accents remotely match one another is only part of the goofy charm.
The real showstopper, however, is Leto, who plays Pacino’s bumbling son as if Arrested Development’s Gob Bluth was portrayed by a Mario brother. Granted, the performance is much more entertaining than it is good; more Leto’s overstuffed ego than his actual comedic chops. However, Ridley Scott frames it in such a way that it hilariously overshadows all of his scene partners, making it easy to forget it’s merely a supporting turn in a supposedly dark tale of greed.
The conflicting tones ultimately do more to kill the House of Gucci‘s pacing than truly detract from each other’s impact, overstuffing the film to more than two and a half hours with plenty of superfluous scenes that could have been taken out. House of Gucci is a reminder that sometimes less is more in filmmaking and that a story can be propelled by star power but does not necessarily achieve greatness just because of it.
Your take on the story may depend on what you were expecting to see — Oscar-hopeful or fashion soap opera. For my money, I’d have liked to see the version of this film that leaned fully into vicious absurdity. But either way, you’re going to get what you came for, just expect it to be somewhat more diluted than you were hoping.
House of Gucci opens in movies theaters on Nov. 24.