What would happen if you tried to make a sprawling, epic, The Godfather-style family crime drama with tons of excess but absolutely zero gravitas? It’s a rhetorical question: The answer is obviously House of Gucci, Ridley Scott’s ludicrously over-the-top yet surprisingly entertaining ode to the Italian stereotype. On the surface, it’s a mess. The performances are all over the place, and no one seems to be checking in on what their fellow actors are doing. They’re all barely acting in the same movie, let alone the same scene with one another. But it’s somehow a beautiful disaster, and that’s because Scott himself is at least partially in on the supreme chaos he has unleashed. House of Gucci may be an exercise in self-indulgence, but you have to at least respect a film like this that wears its heart on its sleeve and is utterly concerned with being liked. You may not agree with a single acting, production, or sartorial choice made in House of Gucci, but it’s refreshing that they’re being made seemingly without regard for mainstream appeal.
House of Gucci begins with a love story. The young heir to the Gucci fashion fortune, Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), is a law student with little interest in the family business. He finds himself falling head over heels in love with Patrizia (Lady Gaga.) He’s charmed by her comparatively simple life, that she seems unpretentious and unfazed by the glamour of the Gucci name. She represents an opportunity to rebel against his family and lead an everyday life in many ways. He is, after all, never happier than in the few scenes where he’s able to play-act as a working-class stiff, a welcome reprieve from the pressures and intrigue that go hand-in-hand with being a Gucci. He thinks that marrying Patrizia will be a chance to escape. He is wrong.
It isn’t long before Patrizia starts taking an interest in the family business. Whether she’s always had an eye on pushing her husband back into the heart of the company, and their entire courtship was nothing more than a supreme act of manipulation, or she was merely corrupted by the temptation of power is immaterial. Regardless, her Machiavellian streak becomes impossible to ignore and will ultimately upend the Gucci fashion house forever.
With all of this, director Ridley Scott sets out to create a dramatic, larger-than-life tale of ambition and betrayal. Everything is dialed up to eleven: even the music is literal opera or bombastic 1980s techno, with nothing in between. Any elements of subtlety are functionally non-existent. And that goes double for the performances, most of which do nothing to convince the viewer that they looked beyond a Chef Boyardee commercial for inspiration. Their sense of Italianness is skewed, to put it kindly, with every actor putting a vastly different and often jarring spin on their interpretation. You go from someone like Adam Driver, whose Italian accent is slight and often only appears at the end of sentences, to Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci, who seems fully committed to a performance as a walking Olive Garden breadstick.
It works if only because their accents are largely in line with their character’s personality. Maurizio would be perfectly willing to disappear into the background forever, and that’s reflected in Driver’s understated performance. Leto’s is … well, the opposite of that. But although his schtick typically has a tendency to grate, it’s bizarrely compelling here. He bears little resemblance to the real Paolo or, indeed, any human being who has ever existed, but that doesn’t matter. His performance of Fredo by way of a giant worm brings heart and levity to House of Gucci even as it threatens to detach it entirely from reality. As for Lady Gaga, the only actor in House of Gucci who has been legitimately earmarked for awards attention, she acts her little heart out. Her Patrizia pulls all the strings, thinks several steps ahead of everyone else, and has a surprising viciousness that leads to tragic consequences.
Each of the performances in House of Gucci certainly makes a statement, although whether audiences will find them charming or ridiculous is up for debate. The narrative, unfortunately, is less compelling and finds itself muddled during most of the second and third acts. There are scenes where you feel like they’re right on the cusp of a genuinely powerful moment, but then they whiff at the last possible second. There’s no driving force within the script, and it seems perplexingly confident that audiences are already familiar with the story of the Guccis. It meanders unnecessarily, and as a result, loses the opportunity to have a legitimate impact.
Still, House of Gucci is unquestionably entertaining. It’s a film with a real point of view (several points of view, in fact) that is unapologetic about the chaotic atmosphere that it cultivates. Lady Gaga is the star of the show as the cunning Patrizia, whose machinations will prove that the greatest threat to the house of Gucci comes from within. Jared Leto’s performance may not win him any fans among the Italian community, but his take on Paolo Gucci is strangely captivating. And despite the film’s narrative flaws, House of Gucci is a wild ride that will ensnare audiences that are willing to take a chance on its messy, melodramatic ways.