The trailer for House of Gucci, Ridley Scott’s sprawling dramatization of the internecine struggle that brought down the famous fashion family suggests the movie will be enjoyable in a nasty, bitch-humor kind of way. The film is indeed nasty, but also regrettably serious. There is a lot of good in it, but it falls far short of the lush, conscienceless turn-on it could have been.
The story centers on Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and his wife Patrizia (Lady Gaga) whose boundless ambition sets things in motion. Calling her the villain of the piece is a bit misleading, however. Like all of the characters, she is a compendium of mixed motives and actions. That makes for a sophisticated look at human behavior, but as a result it is impossible to sympathize much with anyone. For example, Maurizio’s talentless cousin Paolo (Jared Leto) could be sympathetic since he is on the receiving end of much of the maneuvering, but he is so hapless you can’t even pity him.
The action spans twenty years of the West at its glitziest, but for a film about the fashion world, there is oddly little sense of the changes in style over time, much less how the family firm is doing beyond intermittent calls for necessary change. Instead, murky political calculation results in this person losing, that one winning, but all in a manner too remote for us to care or even understand. At times the various conspiracies feel almost absent-minded and can become downright confusing, such as when Adolfo Gucci (Al Pacino) gets swindled out of stock in the company that we thought he had already lost. That’s just one of many jumbled plot threads that are never tied up.
Instead, Scott resorts to pop music to hold things together, provide period texture, cover the gaps in the story and bridge the frequent changes of location. This is one of those movies that tries to compensate for spotty drama with luxuriant settings designed to make us sigh in envy. Adolfo’s country villa, Maurizio and Patrizia’s Manhattan apartment or Rodolfo Gucci’s (Jeremy Irons) Milan palazzo are all suitably gleaming emblems of wealth, privilege and culture, but impersonal to the point of abstraction. It was easier to sing along with the pop songs I knew than to care about what took place in those exquisite spaces.
In other words, House of Gucci rarely takes flight as an entertainingly hyped-up vision of a decadent time and way of life. After Maurizio and Patrizia meet at a late ’70s disco party, we might look forward to similarly vibrant, guiltless indulgence, but the film’s expensive furnishings feel more like a museum tour than any place to get down and dirty. House zips along, it never congeals in its two-and-a-half hours, but it really would be better as the comedy suggested by the trailer because families behaving badly are most enjoyable when they are funny.