'House of Gucci': A Decadent, Bloated Melodrama
Updated: Jan 23
Based on the trailers and marketing for House of Gucci, I went in expecting to see a campy, over-the-top movie. Between the wild accents, use of prosthetics and make-up, and the eclectic cast that was assembled, this looked to be a wild ride. Throw in Ridley Scott as the film's director, and you've got a movie that I just have to see. However, this isn't quite the romp that some might have been expecting it to be. Instead, it is a sprawling family drama that details the scandal and struggles of the Gucci family, and it left me feeling a bit perplexed and a bit overwhelmed. This is primarily due to how different it was from my expectations, as well as just how much is covered over the runtime. While I was expecting this to be a wild ride in terms of how bombastic it is, it ends up being a wild ride because of how all over the place the film ends up being.
I know that I'm not alone in thinking that this film was going to be a bit goofy, and while it does have moments where it leans into this, it is surprisingly more conventional than one might think. This is a film caught between being a campy retelling of the scandals that befell the Gucci family, and being a straightforward biopic. This leads to a clash in tone, and gives the film a strangely disorienting quality that I was not expecting. It goes back and forth from silly to serious in such a way that it can feel like whiplash. One minute, you're seeing a tense argument, and the next, you see or hear something so silly that it feels like it should be in a comedy. This unevenness does hurt the film a little, as it reaches for opposite ends of the spectrum, and doesn't always blend them together all that well. It makes me wonder what film Ridley Scott, as well as screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna were trying to make. Were they trying to make a more earnest film and some campiness slipped in, or was the film originally meant to be more wild and it became more serious due to studio demands? Either way, this aspect might turn some viewers off, and may lead to some of them finding it boring.
While I found the film largely interesting and rather fun despite the issues in tone, I will say that it dragged in places, and there are moments where you can definitely feel the runtime. When I first heard that this film was a little over two and a half hours long, I couldn't help but be curious. Given my preconceived idea of what the film would be, I figured the film would fly by. But I definitely felt the runtime several times throughout the film, and it may be my biggest complaint with it. I understand that the film wanted to go into detail with the ups and downs of the Gucci dynasty, but it doesn't feel wholly necessary. I feel like the film should have taken one of two approaches in regards to the story: it either needed to cut things down significantly, or expanded to be a TV miniseries. The former would allow it to be a bit more focused, and the latter would get the information that the film wants to get across, and allow it to take its time. As it stands, however, the film feels way too long, and like it could have been a good 20 to 30 minutes shorter.
It's a shame that it feels so long, as the story of the Gucci family is interesting. If you look into their lives and the shadiness going on behind the scenes, there are plenty of intriguing things to explore. The film does have moments where it capitalizes on this, but some things don't feel executed as well as it could have. I can't help but feel the screenplay is to blame here, as the narrative is quite overstuffed and scattered at certain points. The main plotline that focuses on Patrizia and Maurizio's relationship is intriguing, but some of the other plot points feel like diversions, and didn't do much for me. Again, I feel that if the film was cut down just a little, it would help it considerably.
Where the film does shine, however, is with its cast. Lady Gaga is quite great as Patrizia Reggiani, even if her accent is a bit odd. She brings the right energy to the film without feeling like she's doing too much. It is a bit heightened, but it makes perfect sense within the context of the film. She plays the multifaceted nature of her character so well, and is electric whenever she is onscreen. This is a movie star performance, and I mean that as a compliment. It's the type of big, emotional performance that we don't see too much of these days, and Gaga knocks it out of the park. Adam Driver has proven himself to be a consistently great actor, and this film doesn't change that. I wouldn't call this my favorite of his roles, but I did appreciate how well he captured the awkwardness of the character. We also get great performances from Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons, both of whom are doing stellar work as always. Pacino specifically does a great job of balancing how big he needs to go in the film, and gives one of the more calibrated performances in the whole film.
And then, there's Jared Leto. Where to even begin with him? There is already quite a bit of debate as to whether he is giving a good performance or a downright disastrous one. I would argue that he's doing both. His performance carries a lot of the energy I was expecting to see in this film, but it is so hammy compared to everyone else. It feels like he is doing way too much, which at times comes across as overly showy, but there are some moments where his bold choices actually work. His character is eccentric and delusional, and I feel that Leto's approach makes sense in that regard. But with the use of heavy make-up, a loud wardrobe, and an offensively bad Italian accent, it's hard to take him seriously. I feel that all of these aspects make sense for the character (minus the bad accent, of course) but they just don't fully come together. I will say that Leto has some legitimately funny moments in the film, even if some of them aren't intentional. It's a ridiculous performance that somehow manages to be just what the film needs, while also being a huge misfire.
Given that this film is about one of the most famous fashion houses in the world, it almost goes without saying that the film has great costumes. Every character has a distinct style, and the costumes match them perfectly. Lady Gaga has the honor of wearing the more eye-catching outfits in the film, but everyone's wardrobe is stylish and fits them nicely (no pun intended). The film's soundtrack is made up of hits from the 70s and 80s which work rather well in the context of the film. Needle drops can be dangerous, but this film makes the wise choice not to overdo them. I feel that this film is a shoo-in to win the Oscar for Best Make-Up and Hairstyling this year. I don't say this because think it's spectacular, but it does feel in line with the Academy's recent winners in that category. Between the use of prosthetics and heavy make-up for Jared Leto's character and the hairstyling for most of the other characters, I would be shocked if it doesn't at least get nominated in that category.
Even though the film didn't live up to what I thought it would be, and despite the issues I have with it, I actually kind of liked this film. Yes, it's overlong and a bit all over the place, but it's also interesting and takes big swings. Those swings may not always connect, but I appreciate that this film is taking risks, as we don't see many mainstream films that do that nowadays. I would much rather watch something that is imperfect, yet interesting, than something that plays it too safe. I can see this film being a bit of a guilty pleasure for some, including myself, as it is flawed, yet I can't help but like it. This is definitely one of those films you will either like a lot, or think its terrible. I'm more on the positive side, but this definitely isn't a masterpiece by any stretch. That being said, I had some fun watching it, and even though it didn't fully work for me, I can definitely see this film gaining a bit of a following over time. I wouldn't go into this film expecting the wild ride the trailers promise, but I would still keep an open mind. It may be too much for some viewers, but for others, this might be a perfect fit.