Adam Driver, Lady Gaga, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, and, uh, Jared Leto are in the House.
DIRECTED BY RIDLEY SCOTT/2021
A nervous energy fills the rooms of the expensively custom-decorated offices and work areas. A wine steward flies in just ahead of the man in charge, signaling his very imminent arrival. Then, in he comes, not alone but distinctly, solitarily of great import. Smiles, compliments, and of course wine are granted on every stop of this workplace tour, resulting in great relief from each of the busy departments once the king has moved on.
No, this is not the scene with the research and development halls of Gucci. It is in fact a scene from the feature-length making of Ridley Scott’s 2012 Alien prequel, Prometheus. Scott by this point was obviously a very big deal, revered for his visual panache and his ability to make popular hits that aren’t altogether stupid. The reputation is well deserved to a point; it’s hard to argue with the altogether validity of Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men, The Martian and his most influential work of all, the “Apple Mac: 1984” Super Bowl commercial. But for at least every one of those, we are subjected to interminable failures like Exodus: Gods and Kings, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven, The Counselor, and Alien: Covenant.
Scott’s latest film takes him away from the genre trappings that make up most of his best work, and into the true-life intrigue of the House of Gucci. Overflowing with lavishness and opulence, the director should be right at home. As witnessed in the afore-mentioned Prometheus documentary, Ridley Scott is not someone who operates on the level of ordinary people. Gucci, with its wealth, materialism, and affluence flaunted at most every turn, has the benefit of its maker followed hallowed rule number one of creative moviemaking: film what you know. In this sense, one supposes it slots in nicely with 2017’s All the Money in the World. (His previous film, the not-bad medieval rape rashomon The Last Duel released just one month ago, decidedly does not).
During one promotional interview for House of Gucci, Scott took a swipe at what he considers the poor screenwriting of the Marvel films and whatnot. Pot, meet kettle. When it comes to spinning well-crafted stories engaging audiences, Scott’s filmography (particularly the more recent entries) … sure looks pretty. Middling efforts such as Legend, Black Rain, Hannibal, Gladiator, and yes, Prometheus, have their bling, but can also be as empty as a new designer handbag. It only makes sense, then, that “middling” is the category where House of Gucci resides.
The cast, it must be said, is quite the Italian-accented ensemble. Star of the moment Adam Driver plays man of the house, Maurizio Gucci. As far as heirs of great fortunes go, Maurizio is about as down to Earth (if never relatable) as any character of his stock could be. His father, Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons), veers from doting to disapproving in very little time, singularly affecting Maurizio’s arc for the bulk of the almost-three-hour running time. Driver is one of few actors capable of imbuing this very obtuse role with straight-faced mystery and the compulsion to watch, and he gets the job done.
Superstar singer Lady Gaga returns to the silver screen as Maurizio’s Central love interest, Patrizia Reggiani. In the part, Gaga is just fine, the absolute right fluidly ubiquitous pop star for the role. Per history, Maurizio and Patrizia’s story is not a happy one, though the early sequences of them falling in love have a rather satisfying intensity. The chemistry between the actors is there, even as the class barrier of these super-rich folks is something of a hermetically sealed bubble. We can only ever know them so well. Certain decisions they make are made because, well, they were really made.
…And then there’s Jared Leto. Hooooly crap. While it’s fair to say that each of the core performers are doing their own thing, Leto is on friggin’ Mars. I mean, talk about a tonal shift…! The legendarily unpredictable actor injects his role of the dim-witted Paolo Gucci with a Borat-esque cartoon energy. How loopy is it? It’s telling that in his many scenes with the notoriously scenery chewing Al Pacino, Leto is by far the more over-the-top. Leto darn near torpedos House of Gucci with his verbose blithering shenanigans, beginning with his astonishing faux-Jeffery Tambor appearance- something that’s garnered notice the moment the public got its first glimpses of the film all those months ago. It’s nuts, I tell ya. Pacino, on the other hand, is actually one of the film’s central pleasures, surefooted and straight down the line as Paolo’s forever frustrated father, Aldo Gucci, estranged brother of Rodolfo.
To believe the film’s tremendously effective marketing is to expect a high-end drama of recent history with a brazen rock n’ roll energy. Although there’s a small amount of disco clubbing in the early minutes and several rock n’ roll needle drops throughout, House of Gucci is not a rock n’ roll movie. It’s simply not. When the tunes come on, they serve to perk up the proceedings, but overall, it’s hard to argue that the likes of Blondie et al belong in the story of a family that Maurizio convincing equates to holy cathedral as opposed to other fashion houses more pop cultural ephemera.
That said, House of Gucci gets at themes of the shifting sands of business as it relates to the rising vitality of image, but never really dives into those ideas. Too bad, as one would assume that the visionary behind “Apple Mac: 1984” might have more to say about such things. As it goes, being a film about semi-recent drama revolving around a real-world brand, House of Gucci compares unfavorably to David Fincher’s 2010 The Social Network. In that film, thematic parallels resonated between our knowledge of what, even then, Facebook would become and the behaviors it would cultivate, and the story of its creators. Alternately, the goods at the center House of Guccicould, from a narrative standpoint, viably be anything. It just so happens to be shoes and handbags. And there’s not even that many of those in the film.
Tangential to the Gucci drama is the love story, and the ultimate tragedy therein. Driver, Gaga, and company do their individualized best to raise the roof of this venerable house as they are able, but the filmmaker himself may simply be too comfortable in this high-end, high-stakes world to tailor it for the masses. Scott’s designer bag of tricks, while still impressive to look upon, remains rather empty… and unfortunately kind of dull.