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House of Gucci
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Gucci Gucci Ewww"
2 stars

At a time when it feels as if the majority of the films put into production have little more on their minds than to offer additional ways of monetizing the intellectual properties of the mega-conglomerates that own them, the fact that there is still someone like Ridley Scott out there should be a cause for celebration for most cineastes. At 83, an age when most people in his line of work have been consigned to the Lifetime Achievement Award circuit, he is not only still turning out films at a ferocious pace but appears to be one of the very few working today who is still willing and able to produce large-scale films that are aimed primarily at an adult audience. He is a filmmaker who clearly swings for the fences every time he takes on a new project and while that has resulted in a number of great works over the years—I will presume that a list of his notable works will not be needed—the down side is that he has also missed by a mile quite a few times in the past, though at least his failures tend to be more intriguing than the better efforts of most other filmmakers that I could name. For example, last month’s “The Last Duel” was a muddled Middle Ages epic that recounted the events leading up to France’s last legal sanctioned duel through three different viewpoints that interpreted the details in vastly dissimilar ways. I did not care for it very much but I am happy that he was able to get something that goes so far against the current grain produced and it received enough raves from other people to make me think that perhaps I should give it another chance and see if it improves on a second viewing.

Now, hot on the heels of that film, comes his latest effort, “House of Gucci,” and I suspect that a second viewing will not change my mind that it is a strange misfire that just never quite works. This is strange because on paper, it would seem to be a project tailor-made for Scott’s sensibilities—a potentially fascinating true story involving lust, greed, venality, treachery and murder among the extremely rich enacted by a cast consisting of A-listers across the board. In the past, this formula has yielded the gripping and compulsively watchable likes of “American Gangster” and “All the Money in the World.” This time around, however, the result is a weird tonal mishmash that veers between straightforward drama and campy excess—sometimes within the confines of the same scene—and which is further undone by a performance so wildly misconceived and executed that it boggles the mind that anyone involved could have possibly considered it to be a good idea. The end result is not a complete disaster, I suppose, but it is a misfire—the cinematic equivalent of one of those lengthy articles in Vanity Fair that you never quite manage to finish.

The film, as you can probably surmise, revolves around the Gucci family fashion dynasty and how one of the most recognizable brand names in the world was nearly brought down for good due to a combination of infighting, backstabbing, wretched excess and a murder plot hatched by a woman who married into the family and did not take the idea of being cast aside by them especially well. The woman is Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) and when we first see here, she appears to be an ordinary woman working for her family’s trucking firm in Italy. However, she is a woman with an ambitious streak to her and we first see that come to play early on in a scene at a party where she engages in mildly disinterested banter with a cheerfully gawky young man named Maurizio (Adam Driver) that quickly becomes a lot more focused when she learns that his last name is Gucci. She begins to avidly pursue him and before long, Maurizio is taking her home to meet his father (Jeremy Irons). Dad immediately pegs her as a gold digger and when Maurizio insists that they are in love and marries her, he cuts him off without a cent.

A lifeline unexpectedly arrives in the form of Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino), the current patriarch of the family who comes in from New York to visit and is charmed by Patrizia. More importantly, he sees Maurizio as a potential heir apparent to the dynasty, at least a more plausible one than his own son, Paolo (Jared Leto), a vain and fashion-challenged nitwit who is sort of like the Gucci equivalent of Fredo Corleone, lacking that character’s core competence and capacity for self-awareness, of course. Maurizio isn’t especially keen on the idea at first—he is perfectly content to work for Patrizia’s father at the trucking company—but he soon gives in to his wife’s wishes and they jet off to New York. There, Patrizia is shocked by the haphazard way that the brand is being run—making cheapo knockoffs of their own products in order to make a quick buck without thinking of how the brand is being diluted in the process—but she influences Maurizio to try to help restore some of the brand’s lost luster. This is successful for a while but before long, things begin to go wrong thanks to a combination of financial chicanery, greed and Paolo’s terrifying combination of jealousy and sheer idiocy that leave Maurizio in power, Aldo in jail and Paolo bringing extra levels of disaster upon himself. Eventually, Maurizio finds himself enamored with a younger model () and splits from Patrizia. If you thought her pursuit of him at the beginning is borderline obsessive, that is nothing compared to what happens now as she and her own personal fortune teller (Salma Hayek) hatch a murder plot against him in an effort to get back what she feels is hers.

As I said, all the ingredients are there for a cattily entertaining wallow through the craven and amoral lifestyles of the rich and feckless but while “House of Gucci” certainly has opulence to spare, it never quite manages to arrange the elements into a compelling or consistent narrative. The screenplay by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, adapted from Sara Gay Forden’s 2001 book “The House of Gucci,” is trying to do two different things that ultimately never really mesh. On the one hand, it wants to offer up a clinical depiction of the terrible business sense of the Guccis and how their incredible misjudgments came close to destroying their once-proud name. This could be compelling in a wonky sort of way but Scott never quite figures out a way to transform things like massive tax fraud and ill-advised stock sales into gripping drama. At other times, however, it yearns to be an over-the-top satire of excess run amok that starts off with all the subtlety and restraint of grand opera and then proceed to go even further. That approach might have worked as well if there was any sense that the narrative was going somewhere—although he has proven himself adept at handling any number of cinematic genres over the years, Scott once again shows that comedy is not exactly his forte. By the time it finally ends, the only thing that the film really seems to be saying is “Man, rich people are dumb,” which is kind of a slender branch to hang a story on, especially one clocking in at 158 minutes.

There is a similar schism in terms of the performances—although most of them are technically fine, they rarely seem to connect with each other or even feel as if they belong in the same movie. As Patrizia, Lady Gaga is pretty good and shows that her turn in “A Star is Born” was no fluke but she doesn’t really catch fire until the latter portion of the film when she shifts into scorned woman mode. Driver turns in the most restrained performance of them all as Maurizio and his scenes are arguably the most consistent on display. On the other hand, Pacino. Irons and Hayek camp up their scenes in agreeable fashion—this is one of those rare occasions when Pacino’s patented histrionics actually seem to fit the part he is playing. However, whatever credibility the film tries to establish, either as a straightforward crime drama or as a goof on the wretched excesses of the jaded super-rich, is immediately demolished every time that Jared Leto wanders onto the screen. Buried under a wide variety of prosthetics and deploying a malaprop-heavy manner of speaking that makes Chico Marx seem lucid by comparison, Leto takes Paolo to such ludicrously cartoonish extremes that it is almost dumbfounding that you have to wonder what he and Scott were thinking when they settled on this approach. Yes, the real Paolo was, by most accounts, an undeniably singular type but Leto’s turn just goes way too far in a not-especially-interesting way and after a while, you get the sense that you are watching SNL’s take on the character and not one from an ostensibly serious actor.

On a shallow surface level, almost appropriate in this case,“House of Gucci” has its momentary pleasures—it is an impeccable technical achievement and it does have a few big laughs here and there. For the most part, however, it just never quite clicks and too often feels like a compressed version of one of those lurid Ryan Murphy docudramas that seem to hit the airwaves every few weeks. At one point during the film, an especially aggrieved Paolo remarks “Never confuse shit with chocolate.” That saying could stand as the perfect summation of a film that, to put it succinctly, is no Toblerone by a long shot.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=34828&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/23/21 10:46:56
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User Comments

11/27/21 KingNeutron Stephanie Germanotta (LG) was HAMAZING in this role, good casting all around 4 stars
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Directed by
  Ridley Scott

Written by
  Becky Johnston
  Roberto Bentivegna

  Adam Driver
  Lady Gaga
  Jared Leto
  Salma Hayek
  Al Pacino
  Jeremy Irons

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