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‘House of Gucci’: Stitching together lots of material, prestige murder movie still feels flimsy

Lady Gaga and Adam Driver show great chemistry as a couple involved with the famed fashion brand, but Jared Leto goes over the top as the family buffoon.

Patrizia (Lady Gaga) insinuates herself into the family business of husband Maurizio (Adam Driver) in “House of Gucci.”
United Artists Releasing

Before the first full reviews of movies are published and posted, we often see social media reactions weeks in advance of a film’s release, e.g., in the case of Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci,” Variety ran a story headlined:

“ ‘House of Gucci’ First Reactions Range from ‘Absurdly Enjoyable’ to ‘Bloated’ to ‘Uneven Mess’ ”

The story quoted tweets from entertainment journalists and critics, including one saying the film “has a definite GODFATHER vibe…”

OK. I will say this: “The Godfather” and “House of Gucci” have three things in common:

  1. Both stories are about wealthy and powerful family dynasties.
  2. Both films star Al Pacino.
  3. They’re both movies.

Overall, though, I’m with the “Bloated” and “Uneven Mess” crowd over the “Absurdly Enjoyable” camp (although there’s plenty of camp on display throughout this film).

Despite the lurid and dramatically ripe real-life source material, the presence of the great and prolific Ridley Scott as director, the glamorous locations and costumes, and a cast filled with Oscar winners and next-generation stars, “House of Gucci” somehow manages to feel slight and overlong (the running time is 2 hours and 37 minutes) at the same time. The screenplay hops from locale to locale like a globe-trotting dilettante while repeating certain themes time and again, only occasionally offering any in-depth insights into the main players.

As the A-list likes of Adam Driver, Jeremy Irons, Lady Gaga and Jared Leto wrestle with their Italian accents to various degrees of success — sometimes sounding authentic, on other occasions coming across as if they’re overdoing it for an “SNL” skit — it feels as if we’re getting an awards-bait, mostly somber (with one major exception), prestige treatment of the rise and fall and rise of the Gucci brand, when the material might have been better suited to an embrace-the-prurience streaming series on the order of the “American Crime Story” dramatizations about O.J. Simpson and Gianni Versace.

Based on the non-fiction book “The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed” by Sara Gay Forden and taking place from the early 1970s into the 1990s, “House of Gucci” details how one Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), who works at her father’s trucking business, meets the handsome and seemingly down-to-earth Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), learns his last name is Gucci and sets her sights on him. Patrizia does some light stalking of Maurizio and quickly captures his heart, much to the dismay of Maurizio’s widowed father, the family patriarch Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), an embittered old man who has one of those telltale Movie Coughs indicating he’s not going to be around for the end of the film. When Maurizio commits to Patrizia, his father cuts him off and Maurizio goes to work at his future father-in-law’s company, happily washing trucks and bonding with the working-class peasants and having spectacularly lustful sex with Patrizia in the on-site office. What a guy!

Al Pacino hams it up as Aldo Gucci, half owner of the fashion company.
United Artists Releasing

Ah, but Patrizia has plans for Maurizio — plans that entail him reuniting with his Uncle Aldo (Al Pacino, having a grand old time hamming it up), who takes an instant shine to Patrizia. When Rodolfo dies and Maurizio inherits 50% of the company, he’s equal partners with Uncle Aldo. What could possibly go wrong?

Now it’s time to talk about the Jared Leto in the room. As Uncle Aldo’s idiot son Paolo, a bald, pear-shaped, pathetic buffoon whose garish designs are the antithesis of the traditional Gucci brand, Leto pulls out all the stops to create some sort of bizarre, farcical, distractingly cartoonish character, as if he’s channeling an Italian cousin of the Three Stooges. It’s … not helpful to the movie. Paolo’s resentment of his uncle and his father leads him to betray the family — the first of many back-stabbings and front-stabbings and side-stabbings committed by various Gucci family members and associates as they wrestle for control of the company.

Aldo’s pathetic son Paolo (Jared Leto) fashions himself a designer.
United Artists Releasing

While Patrizia becomes ever more reliant on the ridiculous (though based on a real person) medium/con woman Giuseppina Auriemma (Salma Hayek) for advice and insinuates herself into the Gucci families’ wheelings and dealings, Maurizio catches on to her manipulations and suddenly grows cold, treating Patrizia like yesterday’s news as he reunites with his jet-setting friends, in particular Paola Franchi (Camille Cottin), a sophisticated and glamorous blonde who is everything Patrizia pretends to be. Left literally standing on the sidewalk, shut out of her former home, Patrizia resorts to drastic measures, as Giuseppina introduces her to a couple of third-rate hitmen who agree to take out Maurizio. On a spring morning in 1995, Maurizio Gucci was heading into his Milan office when he was gunned down. “House of Gucci” addresses the crime and the subsequent trial of Patrizia, Giuseppina et al., as almost an epilogue to the story — rushing through those shocking events after taking forever to get us there.

At times this film pops with lavish, period-piece sequences in settings such as Rome, Florence, Milan, Lake Como and in the mountain resort of Gressoney-Saint-Jean, or when we see a groundbreaking fashion show after Tom Ford joins the Gucci label and makes it relevant and happening. Adam Driver (who has now played a French squire and an Italian fashion heir in consecutive Ridley Scott movies) and Lady Gaga have legit chemistry together, and it’s still a kick to see Al Pacino roaring like a lion in winter. But Hayek and Irons are playing cardboard-thin characters, Leto flounders about as if he’s in a movie all his own, and “House of Gucci” feels coldly calculating when it should have been flush and warm with scandalous sensationalism.