When Patrizia meets Maurizio for the first time, she perks up at his last name. The deafening thump of the bass at the party of a girl Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) doesn’t even know can’t drown out the sound of the syllables of that name: Gucci. Nor can it mask the way Patrizia’s eyes grow as wide as saucers as she hears Maurizio (Adam Driver) say it. It’s a name synonymous with wealth, she explains to us in the narration which opens Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, narration that carries over a brief glimpse at the dramatized moments leading up to Maurizio’s death at Patrizia’s hand back in 1995, which play out in full by the end of the film. One of Hollywood’s busiest octogenarians, it’s hard not to acknowledge that Scott’s second film of 2021 shares similar blood with his first, the medieval-set The Last Duel. Both are grand, sprawling two-and-a-half-hour dramas based on real people and crimes, involving the marriage of a woman into a family that doesn’t want her and culminating with the death of Adam Driver.
As opposed to a historical allegory of modern gender politics, House of Gucci is a satire complete with Italian accents as inane as you’ve probably heard, but not quite as comfortable in its nearly three-hour runtime. After Patrizia spends the rest of the aforementioned party dancing vibrantly with Maurizio, she takes advantage of a happenstance sighting of him in Milan and follows him into a bookstore, where her insistence at striking up conversation metastasizes into weaseling her way into a date. Patrizia—who works for her father’s ground transportation business—doesn’t fully strike one as a tried-and-true gold digger. Lady Gaga encapsulates Patrizia as toeing this delicate line between genuine, passionate devotion that nevertheless cannot unwed itself from being inherently guided by her attraction to the Gucci name. Still, when Patrizia says she loves Maurizio, it can’t help but read as true love. And when Maurizio says he wants to marry her, his father Rodolfo’s (Jeremy Irons) abject disgust at the prospect of his only son shacking up with the uncultured daughter of a truck driver only colors Patrizia more positively in our eyes.
But Maurizio does not feel any kinship to his world-renowned name, much to Patrizia’s dismay. Maurizio had been studying to be a lawyer, and would prefer to leave the fashion faffing about to his father, uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), and ridiculous cousin/failson Paolo (Jared Leto). The latter is consistently derided for his grandiose self-image that can’t save him from his own mediocre creative streak, making the casting choice of a heavily prosthetic-laden Leto particularly ingenious. But as the Gucci name had, at the time, begun to slip in estimation among the fashion world, Patrizia increasingly takes it upon herself to start meddling in the Gucci affairs. She pits family member against family member all for the sake of restoring the Gucci name in the eyes of the world—something that she really has no place in doing. But not only does Patrizia feel as if playing games with the family business is something that she should do, but she also feels that it’s her right to do as someone who now bears the name Gucci. Out of obligation, Maurizio is pulled into a labyrinthine mess of his wife’s own making, turning him into a person that he never wanted to become.
Gucci family protest against the film and the alleged inaccuracies of the book it’s based on aside, House of Gucci hums as a sumptuous melodrama, positioning Scott as two-for-two in a year where the 83-year-old has managed to gift us with dueling (sorry), beautifully-crafted biopics. Gucci, of course, could not be further from The Last Duel in matters more than surface-level, leaning heavily into satire and, thus, giving apt excuse for the openly ludicrous range of fake Italian accents offered by its lead and supporting cast that are less a representation of Italians than an amusing caricature (I can say this, I’m the same amount of Italian as Robert De Niro). It’s something that ends up acting in complete, ironic opposition to the non-accent route Scott chose to take in the France-set Duel, and it’s only strengthened by performances that run the gamut on levels of hamminess. And as it pains me to write out, it is hard to not find Leto, in particular, simply delightful as the ambitious doofus Paolo Gucci. Leto oscillates repeatedly into a hilarious falsetto trill and dons matching corduroy garments that mortify his high-fashion family even in private.
Still, House of Gucci would not be what it is without the sheer weight of Lady Gaga’s portrayal of Patrizia, a woman who wants to “have it all” and then some. She is depicted as having a good heart that cannot outpace her greed, a person seemingly born to be rich but unable to control her lavish impulses. Gaga—whose Italian accent interpretation bewildered her own dialect coach—is utterly beguiling. She commands every scene that she’s in. The wolf whistles she receives as she strides across her father’s worksite at the start of the film do not feel like overwrought sexualization but simply what Gaga does to people by sheer virtue of her presence on screen. She is beautiful but deeply striking, her big eyes as capable of carrying heartache as they are the machinations of her next scheme. She transitions effortlessly into her second major film role that is miles away from A Star is Born’s small town country girl-turned-pop diva, yet similarly mines gold from her real-life pop diva persona. Where Gaga flexed her grounded realism muscles with Ally, she shows off her decades-crafted expertise in histrionics with Patrizia. Gaga embodies Patrizia with a theatricality that never betrays the character’s (and real person’s) humanity.
The film does stumble with its pacing, however, and a little past the midway point is when House of Gucci really starts to feel its 158 minutes. The momentum built up in the first two-thirds gradually peters out, and the trajectory of the narrative develops into a series of conversations in different rooms, not all of them particularly interesting. But, in a way, the progression of the film mirrors the downslide of Patrizia—her wide-eyed, idealized life in the lap of luxury eventually transformed into an unending series of business talks that she doesn’t necessarily have the facilities to navigate. While nowhere near as “camp” as has been tossed around, House of Gucci entertains and moves in its cheeky take on the seductive, corrupting power of wealth.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Becky Johnston, Roberto Bentivegna
Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jared Leto
Release Date: November 24, 2021
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.