Movie Review: A sordid, sometimes silly and oh-so stylish “House of Gucci”

Ridley Scott looked at all the sordid, unscrupulous and deadly goings-on that ended the Gucci family’s days of running the “House of Gucci” and saw a cartoon. Watching his take on a fashion empire’s downfall, or change-of-ownership, you can sometimes see his point.

Yes, scenes of the unsubtle singer-turned-actress Lady Gaga manhandling poor Adam Driver are worth the price of admission. And yes, her performance as Milan trucking-firm daughter Patrizia Reggiani and her ravenous and avaricious pursuit of buttoned-down, out-of-his-depth Gucci heir Maurizio called for nothing less.

It may be mini-series length and feature a murder, but don’t confuse Scott’s “Gucci” with TV’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” The over-the-top clothes, delusionally-overdressed women, backbiting, backstabbing and opulence may be similar. The innate Italianate qualities might be the same — effortlessly stylish, insufferably snobby. But the laughs here, many of which are intentional, give away Sir Ridley’s raised-eyebrow.

“All this melodrama over leather fashion accessories?”

Of course we all know ultimate-in-luxury Gucci brand is more than that, but I have to say, I’m with the director here.

“House” tracks Patrizia’s meeting and stalking of Maurizio, their marriage and eventual embedding with his father’s company, from the disco era through the “Greed is Good” ’80s to the mid ’90s.

We see how Maurizio’s polite but aloof and dashing ex-film actor father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons, perfect) tried to fend off this “match.” We meet the pampered cattle that produce their leather and hear the family and its brand’s ancient and legendary history (founded in “1410”) from a favorite blowhard uncle, Aldo (Al Pacino, fun). And we learn from the bookish, law-school bound Maurizio that it’s mostly bull.

“My grandfather was bellhop at the Savoy Hotel in London,” Maurizio corrects. Granddad just noticed the fancy leather luggage he was hauling for tips in the early 20th century, and figured there was a market in leather shoes, purses and luggage made exclusively for the richest of the rich.

Maurizio’s jaded take on the family business and choice of brides has his father disown him. In the movie’s most romantic moment, he shows up at Patrizia’s house in a taxi with a few belongings, states his newly-impoverished case to her dad, and with Patrizia giving a smitten side-eye — she has “plans” — the match is made.

The rich stiff’s “liberation” via washing dump trucks and playing football with the boys might be a “happiest I’ve ever been in my life” cliche, but Driver makes us buy in.

The palace intrigues are going to change all that. Uncle Aldo wants to take young Maurizio under his wing to obtain leverage with his partner-brother Rodolfo, whose health is failing. And Patrizia does her best to hide her eagerness to charm Aldo and seduce/nag Maurizio to make this happen.

Aldo’s own son, dopey, delusional would-be designer Paolo, is labeled “an idiot” and worse by one and all. With Gucci as my witness, I didn’t recognize Oscar-winner Jared Leto under all that makeup and facial prosthetic and cartoonish/buffoonish performance.

Thus the struggle for control of Gucci is launched well after we’ve gotten permission to laugh at some of the awful, overwrought and over-dressed shenanigans. It’s a pity they lost the nerve to make this an out-and-out tragic farce, because as Scott lets on, it sure as hell could have been.

The opulence — with Lady Gaga changing from overdressed secretary to her dad, driving a stylish but cheap Fiat Spider, to chauffeured Bentleys as a Gucci — is unending. The intrigue –, pitting sons against their fathers — are dastardly. And the accents — that affected Italian that movie stars have been trotting out since Chico Marx — tilt toward the comic.

Scott takes us to fashion shows, lets us see how staid and out-of-touch Gucci couture had become even as the leather brand backbone business remained vital, and catches the moment Texan Tom Ford (Reeve Carney) rode in to return it to runway relevance. He shows the cost of the power struggles

Yet as you’d expect from a film with an ungainly two and a half hours-plus running time, the boring financial strategizing takes over and drags the movie to a halt. And the big “break” within the family, despite being a long-time coming, plays as abrupt, a sort of “Wait, we haven’t done that yet, because there’s a murder coming in the third act?” afterthought.

A couple of films and several TV performances in, I’m still not certain Lady Gaga will ever hit that point where we’ll see her billed as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, and that acting will turn out to be her best destiny. She gets the technical superficials (kind of ) right, but her characters lack the interior life great actors let us see in their eyes.

Driver’s fine monied gentry turn here is somewhat undercut by that fateful accent decision made over his head. Irons is regal, dapper and Old World world-weary, the acting template for the film. Jack Huston‘s role as fixer/”consigliere” to the family is underdeveloped, so he can’t show us much.

Which is fine because Pacino and Leto chew the scenery like they’re at an all-you-can-eat pasta buffet. They’re as repellent as engaging when they’re going this far over-the-top.

Scott spared little on this film, which hints at there being enough detail that it could have been a mini series. He even cast stand-ins for everyone from Sophia Loren and Anna Wintour to André Leon Talley, Richard Avedon, Karl Lagerfeld and longtime Cafe Carlyle singer-in-resident Bobby Short.

And if you don’t know any of those names, “House of Gucci” might not be the movie for you.

But if you’re passing familiar with this world and that era, and intrigued by the very notion of the director of “Gladiator” and the superb period piece no one saw last month, “The Last Duel,” taking on a different sort of empire, sparing no feelings or glitzy expense, allowing Leto to let it all hang out and Gaga to pin Driver — best two-of-three falls — by all means have at “House of Gucci.”

It’s a bit mad and it doesn’t all work. But the upscale conspicuous consumption shimmers through even in its most down-market moments.

Rating: R, Some Sexual Content, Language, Brief Nudity, Violence

Cast: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Jared Leto, Jack Huston and Al Pacino

Credits: Directed by Ridley Scott, scripted by Becky Johnston, Roberto Bentivegna, based on the book by Sarah Gay Forden. An MGM/UA release.

Running time: 2:37

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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