Money. Family. Power. Betrayal. Scandal. Murder. When the trailer for House of Gucci dropped in the summer of 2021, it promised all this and more. The ambitious film was set to bring one of the most infamous scandals in the history of fashion to life, complete with all the glitz, glam, and drama that only Hollywood can achieve. And if the subject matter alone wasn’t enough, the all-star cast garnered immediate attention from the masses. The ensemble would be led by none other than Lady Gaga, with supporting roles filled by Adam Driver, Jeremy Irons, Jared Leto, Salma Hayek, and crime-drama veteran, Al Pacino. To top it all off, Ridley Scott would direct. The theatrical release came and went in November, and you can now watch the Gucci drama unfold from the comfort of your home on Blu-ray, DVD, or digital. But does House of Gucci live up to expectations? What’s behind all the decadent style that’s so evident in the trailer? Does every second of the two-hour, thirty-eight-minute movie captivate and dazzle audiences as much as the trailer did? It’s a tall order to fill. House of Gucci needed more than a luxurious production design to tell the story of Patrizia Reggiani, an ambitious woman who married into the Gucci family and later coordinated the murder of her ex-husband, Maurizio.
Behind the chic costumes, elegant hairstyles, captivating makeup, glamorous sets, and nostalgic soundtrack that make House of Gucci the stylistic achievement that it is, there’s some fundamental element missing. Sure, the movie is visually appealing and stylistically seductive, but it lacks substance. It leaves you feeling empty, and you never get to dig your fingernails into the heart of the story like the trailer promised. Watching the movie is like skimming across the surface of the story and passing by glittering reflections of the Gucci family without ever taking the plunge. But before getting into all that, it might help to go over who those family members are.
House of Gucci is based on Sara Gay Forden’s book, The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, which was published in 2000. The movie tells the story of Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a woman of modest means, elegant tastes, and fierce ambition. She met Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the grandson of Guccio Gucci and partial heir to the family fortune, at a party in the 1970s. When Maurizio first lays eyes on Patrizia, he’s definitely intrigued by the dazzling young lady in red who reminds him of Elizabeth Taylor. But it is Patrizia, according to the movie, who initiates the relationship. When she hears Maurizio utter the name “Gucci,” the mix of star-stuck wonder and determination in her eyes says it all. And who wouldn’t try to pursue someone with the name “Gucci,” a name that’s “synonymous with wealth, style, [and] power?” Of course, the young couple faces their fair share of troubles, starting with Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), who disapproves of the match. Then, there’s the other half of the Gucci legacy, Maurizio’s uncle, Aldo (Al Pacino), and his cousin, Paolo (Jared Leto), who have vastly different plans for the future of the Gucci brand. As family drama, business disputes, and the ever-changing fashion scene shake the foundations of the House of Gucci, Patrizia’s ambition and tenacity only add fuel to the fire.
House of Gucci has the right cast, the right cinematography, the right sets, the right makeup and costumes, and the right soundtrack, but it lacks the personal and emotional depth that makes other dramas with the same level of ambition so interesting. Part of the problem is that the dialogue in House of Gucci isn’t up to par with its magnificent production design. The movie doesn’t have the character-defining banter of true-crime hits like The Irishman, nor does it have the personal narration of films like I, Tonya. A lot of the dialogue is surface-level and awkward, and it’s difficult for the cast to add depth to the script while maintaining their fake Italian accents (some cast members do much better with the accent than others).
Aside from the lackluster dialogue, the main issue with House of Gucci is that the overall story isn’t in sync with the character development. It’s almost as if the writers, cast, director, cinematographer, and editors all wanted to tell the story from a different angle. As a result, the final version of the story doesn’t support the characters that the cast tried to create. Additionally, the story never delves into any particular character’s point of view. Key characters will disappear for several scenes at a time only to pop up again unexpectedly, and they change and develop while we’re not looking. House of Gucci keeps us at a distance from the characters and denies us the juicy scoop that the trailer promised.
The easiest way to examine the tension between character development and story in House of Gucci is to look at the relationship between Patrizia and Maurizio. In “The Lady of the House” featurette, which is included on the DVD and Blu-ray, Driver remarks that while Patrizia is certainly ambitious, she also loved Maurizio, at least in the beginning. There’s plenty of time in the movie to show Patrizia and Maurizio falling in love. However, Maurizio never shows the same level of passion for Patrizia as she shows for him. In fact, he seems pretty passive and clueless throughout the entire first half of the movie, making it seem like Patrizia tricks him into marriage and, later, into taking control of the family business and betraying his cousin and uncle. During the scenes in which the couple is dating, Maurizio is confused, absent-minded, and uninterested. When they first meet, Patrizia mistakes Maurizio for a bartender because he is, in fact, standing behind the bar. He acts like he has no idea how he got there, and he seems both baffled and annoyed by Patrizia’s flirtatious remarks. Patrizia, on the other hand, is in control of every date. She’s the one that seeks out and finds Maurizio after their initial meeting. She’s the one that writes her number in lipstick on the windshield of his motorcycle, to which he responds, once again, with a confused and slightly annoyed expression. When Maurizio risks his inheritance by telling his father that he wants to marry Patrizia, his bold move doesn’t make sense. It seems like he’s only been putting up with Patrizia for the last several months. When did he fall so in love with her that he became willing to risk his family legacy to marry her? There’s nothing wrong with a lady taking the lead in a relationship, but because Maurizio is so absent-minded and uninterested during the early stages of the relationship, House of Gucci makes Patrizia seem much more manipulative than Lady Gaga may have intended to portray her.
In the section of the movie that depicts the early years of Patrizia and Maurizio’s marriage, House of Gucci places Patrizia at the center of the story and portrays her as the mastermind behind every decision that the Gucci men make. But later, when Maurizio begins taking business matters into his own hands, the movie forgets about Patrizia for a while and veers off-road to tell the story from Maurizio’s point of view. By the time that Patrizia steps back into the spotlight, the narrative perspective has shifted drastically. Despite Lady Gaga’s efforts to humanize Patrizia, the final act of the movie portrays her through Maurizio’s point of view as nothing but a crazy ex-wife.
This is especially frustrating when you consider how much work Lady Gaga put into the role of Patrizia, whom she describes as “a woman that is trying desperately to belong… and makes a very tragic error” (“The Rise of the House of Gucci”). The story of Patrizia Reggiani as told by House of Gucci isn’t in sync with Lady Gaga’s vision for the character. Granted, there are two scenes in the movie that do humanize Patrizia and capture her struggle to fit in. There’s the scene in which Patrizia meets Rodolfo for the first time, becoming the subject of class-based prejudice as Rodolfo questions her about her background and family, and the scene in which Aldo tells Patrizia, quite dismissively, that the Gucci business “is not a girl’s game.” In these scenes, the closeup shots of Patrizia highlight Gaga’s performance and reveal a sympathetic version of the character that the rest of the film hides.
It’s much easier to portray a character who is all-good or all-bad than to create a sympathetic character who is also significantly flawed. Lady Gaga put in the work needed to represent the many different sides of Patrizia Reggiani. If you look at each scene in House of Gucci individually, you can see that work shine through. But unfortunately, the movie never gives us the chance to get to know the version of Patrizia that Lady Gaga created. As a whole, House of Gucci portrays Patrizia as a shallow and unstable character who had it out for Maurizio from the beginning. Rather than living up to the promises of the trailer, House of Gucci offers an impersonal and surface-level story that sinks under the weight of its extravagant production design.
House of Gucci DVD and Blu-ray Special Features:
- The Rise of the House of Gucci
- The Lady of the House
- Styling House of Gucci
Available on digital February 1st, 2022.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD February 22nd, 2022.
For more information, head to the official House of Gucci website.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.