I wonder what the longer cut is like. That’s the thought that went through my mind during the 157 minutes of Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, a biopic covering the unraveling legacy of the family empire behind the famed Italian fashion brand. As it stands, the film has all the hallmarks of a well-made drama from a director who continually likes to go big with adult-skewing works of cinema. However, it could be better. Is there a 3-hour version of this movie that further examines these characters or leans more into the high camp atmosphere that wants to burst out of this fairly straightforward picture? Well, Scott is known for his extended cuts, so I’d say it’s pretty likely. However, what’s presented here is a flashy, well-cast feature, with enough costumes and accents to remain entertaining, even when Gucci feels like it’s spinning its wheels.
The film picks up in 1973 Italy. By chance, Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a young woman from a blue-collar family, meets Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at a party. Instantly smitten, Patrizia is sure to find him again, and the two strike up a relationship. Suspicious of her intentions, Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons), threatens to essentially cut his son out of the family if he does not give up his girlfriend. Maurizio stands by his love and thus finds himself with nothing.
The first hour of House of Gucci is where the film shines the brightest. There is strong chemistry between Gaga and Driver, and the film cleverly plays into a couple of options regarding what Patrizia’s intentions really are. Is she, in fact, a gold digger, or is she really taken by this strapping yet bookish man? Whatever the case may be, like many a biopic, these are the golden years full of life, happiness, and underdog sensibilities. Will these crazy kids be able to hold onto their love and make it big anyway? Well, those familiar with the story of this family understand it’s more about what eventual success does to them.
Maurizio’s uncle, Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino), soon enters the story, and thanks to some prodding by Patrizia, her husband finds himself in a position of power working with the family. Better him than Aldo’s son, Paolo Gucci (Jared Leto), a buffoonish man with delusions of grandeur. It’s at this point that everyone should be reminded that biopics are still movies, not documentaries. Whether or not the attitudes and depictions match the various members of House Gucci, it’s more about watching a story of rich and powerful people dealing with corruption, betrayal, and eventually revenge.
Ideally, this would be presented in the most entertaining of ways. The film certainly supplies ample opportunities to unleash its cast on the audience. While Driver and Irons hold onto a level of decorum throughout the film, Pacino and Leto are far more willing to dive into their eccentric personalities. Does this hurt the movie? Not really. There’s clearly supposed to be a level of humor on display. Yes, ever since Scent of a Woman, watching an older Pacino find reasons to go big can lead to mixed results, but there’s a reason behind Aldo’s showmanship.
Similarly, even with heavy makeup, a bald cap, and extra cushioning, Leto still manages to build a character around his attention-getting role. Is it amazing work? I’m still processing this effort. However, one can see the nuance being achieved by playing an incredibly insecure man who projects the same way his father does to hide his weakness. Yes, Leto also relies on an over-the-top Italian accent. Still, with a film like this, I’m not sure if having multiple high-strung Italian members of a fashion empire underplayed by the actors would be worthwhile.
For her part, Lady Gaga does manage to find the right balance in bringing Patrizia to life. Accent aside (and no one’s exactly winning a medal here), her arc is strong, and the performance gives it weight. Due to the nature of the story, which basically finds excuses to have her be continually involved in events punctuated by inevitable, if standard, business decisions, it’s impressive that she’s never a hindrance. If anything, sacrificing some of Patrizia’s screentime would allow for more time to explore the actions of Maurizio (again, a longer cut probably helps with this). With that in mind, I understand Scott, the director, doing what he can to maximize the time spent with the film’s main draw.
As far as what else Scott can do, well, the Oscar-nominated director is not new to making large-scale films showing off the locations, costumes, production design, and whatever else needed to help audiences recognize why his movies look great on a big screen. House of Gucci meanders a bit too much for its own good, as the later acts of the film have a way of stretching out ideas that only have one way to go. In that regard, it really comes down to how much a viewer admires the various settings and additional time spent watching characters repeat similar actions in different designer outfits.
It is, once again, interesting to see where Scott’s mind is at thematically. A month ago, his rather excellent film, The Last Duel, put its focus on what a woman had to go through for daring to call attention to her mistreatment (to say the least). House of Gucci similarly puts the spotlight on a woman who knows how to wield power but can be cast aside at a moment’s notice when others realize just how well she can use it. The film is not exactly putting morality on the side to be nothing but sympathetic to the actions of Patrizia, but it’s smart enough to know that every relationship has its complexities and which side more often succeeds.
As a melodrama, House of Gucci does what it can to make this story entertaining throughout. By moving back and forth between being a singular study of an infamous figure and a sprawling look at a flawed family business, the urgency isn’t always there. However, Driver and Gaga are compelling enough to watch, and Pacino and Leto don’t make the film less interesting. Ridley Scott has made a very classy campfest that leans a bit too much on the dry side instead of having more outrageous fun. However, whether or not he has plans to deliver a longer version of this story at some other point, everyone is dressed their best as they try to deliver the gold.