1978, Milan. A woman walks in high heels across a building site to the backdrop of a choir of wolf whistles. She sits down at a typewriter. Patrizia is working in the offices of her father’s trucking film. Later she goes out and crashes a posh party where she meets a man who she first assumes is the bartender. Learning that his name is Maurizio Gucci, she does her level best to ensure that the shy rich kid gets her phone number.
We may note in passing that House of Gucci is the sort of film that sees someone as lower class because their father owns a load of trucks. Patrizia is obviously gauche because when visiting Maurizio’s father, she mistakes a Klimt for a Picasso (something that just doesn’t work dramatically, because Klimt paintings look nothing like Picassos. Or is she just bringing up the name of the first painter who comes to mind and hoping she’ll luck out? Did the writers bring up the name of the first painter who occurred to them? Whatever, it’s all very lazy)
Anyway, for whatever reason, Patrizia and Maurizio are soon married and she goes all Lady Macbeth on him, pushing him into intrigues that pit one part of his family against another. This will eventually lead to something foreshadowed in the opening scene where she successfully orders a hit on her by now estranged husband (surely it can’t be a plot spoiler if it was headline news).
This has the makings of a very interesting biopic. Yet what we get is a dreadful mess of a film which tacks on the assassination as an afterthought, and is much more interested in rich people having dinner table conversations about balance sheets. There was the chance to make some points about the shallowness of the fashion industry, but as far as I’m concerned, the film was too much in awe of its subjects to truly criticize them (other views are possible and will appear below).
Let’s start with the most obvious problem. The-a need of actors who should know better to speak in exaggerated Italian-a accents (Jeremy Irons as Maurizio’s father largely opts out, presumably because he realises that this is beneath him). Let’s remind ourselves, these are supposed to be conversations between Italian people who read newspapers which are printed in Italian. There is no need to make them sound like an outtake rejected by Shaddap You Face for being too extreme.
Accompanying the absurd accents is the excessive over-acting. Jared Leto has been rightly called up on this for his clownish performance as Maurizio’s cousin Paolo. But he is by no means the only one. Lady Gaga has largely received praise for her performance – and for the first hour she puts in a decent performance as the manipulative Patrizia. But as the film develops, and Patrizia becomes increasingly unhinged, Gaga’s over-acting becomes equally outrageous.
(another remark. This is a film that stars the great Salma Hayek. Just who’s idea was it to give her a nothing role as a tv fortune teller who Patrizia employs as some sort of confidante? Not even Hayak is able to make anything out of such slim pickings).
In amongst this, it is a little strange to report, that the one actor who is holding himself in is Al Pacino. Now, I’ve seen Pacino in many films, through good and very bad performances. I have never before seen him perform with so little charisma as in House of Gucci. It is not that he’s acting badly – he’s done that often enough in the past. He just isn’t even trying.
This was one of the rare films that I actually watched with someone else, and although we agreed that the film is a mess, we had slightly different opinions on what it was trying to do. My friend thought that it was being deliberately ironic, that when the people behind us laughed at all the ”wrong” moments, the film makers were in on the joke. Seen like this, maybe the House of Gucci is actually a biting satire on the vanity of the super-rich.
This interpretation just doesn’t convince me. It felt to me that the film lacked any such self-awareness or subtlety. Sure they could notice that the rich fucking each other over makes for good drama, in the sense of Dallas and Dynasty in the 1980s. But in House of Gucci, these trivial disputes between trivial people are only seen as being important because they are richer and more famous than us.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it was all poking fun at the Guccis, but if this is the case, there were just too many scenes in plush hotels or on ski slopes, too many big business meetings or fashion shows to keep up any interest in what was happening. These are not things I want to lightly satirize when we could be tearing them into tiny pieces. Even if the film had progressive tendencies, the repeated need to close in on Lady Gaga’s cleavage when things were starting to drag was just offensive.
Often when I see a 2 ½ hour film, I say that 30 minutes could have been easily cut. This time round, sticking to the final 10 minutes would have been a major improvement. I predict that in a few years, House of Gucci will be a permanent fixture on the midnight movie circuit where people chant along with the dialogue and laugh in the wrong places. Not in an ironic “we’re in on the joke” way, but because this is a very bad film.