House of Gucci: One of 2021's Funniest Movies
Barely a month after the unfortunate financial (though not artistic) failure of The Last Duel, the soon-to-be 84-year-old Ridley Scott returns to the multiplex with his latest highly entertaining screed against the rich and powerful. While House of Gucci may not be quite as sharp as last month’s effort, it’s inarguably more fun: an often uproarious satire and another example of Scott’s career-spanning capacity for tonal diversity.
Adapted from Sara Gay Forden’s book (subtitled A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed) by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, Scott’s film follows the decline of the Guccis and the end of their eponymous fashion house’s era as a family operation, highlighted by the murder of Maurizio Gucci by hitmen hired by his ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani. From the point of view of the characters involved, the events of the film are of course a tragedy of operatic proportions, but in the hands of Scott and his cast — nearly all of whom are taking the mantra of “go big or go home” to heart — it’s hard to see House of Gucci as shooting for anything other than poison-tipped comedy.
From 1979’s Alien to 2017’s All the Money in the World (and, yes, also Alien: Covenant), Scott has consistently had his knives out for the capitalistic excesses that so often define the modern world, and House of Gucci fits in perfectly with that pattern of artistic expression. There’s really no one to root for here, which may be off-putting to some viewers, but for those of us who enjoy nothing more than watching a group of would-be Machiavellis stab each other in the back over fame and name, the pleasures are evident. From on-the-nose yet weaponized needle drops (I almost lost it at an Italian cover of I’m a Believer) to over-the-top costuming to strategic color pops and desaturation, Scott pulls out all the tricks in the book in painting a fiendish portrait of excess gone inevitably sour.
However (and I’ve buried the lede a bit here), House of Gucci’s pleasures are largely attributable its cast being given free reign by Scott to go for broke, which for the most part results in gleeful portrayals that resemble what would happen if cartoon rich people were Pinocchio-ed into real-life fashion magnates with exaggerated Italian accents. As Patrizia, Lady Gaga is the star of the show, combining the megawatt charisma on display in A Star is Born with her best approximation of a less canny Lady Macbeth. Patrizia’s early scenes with Maurizio (Adam Driver) are wonderfully cute, setting the stage for a descent into soap opera machinations that Gaga fully commits to while walking the thin line of stereotype with impressive skill.
In contrast, Driver gives the most recognizably human performance, while still managing to realistically exist on the same plane as his costars, further cementing him as one of our best working actors. Legends Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons are on hand as the old guard of the Guccis (Aldo and Rodolfo, respectively), and unsurprisingly make a meal out of every scene they’re in — Pacino in particular has entered a nice comedic lane in recent years — as does Salma Hayek, playing Patrizia’s psychic and co-conspirator. But odds are you’re going to walk away from House of Gucci thinking about one performance over all others: as Paolo, the black sheep of the Gucci family, Jared Leto — with help from his substantial prosthetics — goes so far down the rabbit hole of caricature that he emerges from the other side in a manner that almost transcends critique. With a lilting voice, overdone accent, and mannerism on top of mannerism, he inexplicably fashions perhaps the most interesting character of the bunch and is at the center of the film’s few genuinely moving scenes — a truly remarkable feat.
What ultimately holds the film back from true greatness is the narrative’s inability to fully match the energy of its actors. Despite what seems like an attempt to excise as much unnecessary exposition as possible (the film spans two decades but makes its time jumps seamlessly and without overt acknowledgement), House of Gucci is still overlong at nearly two hours and forty minutes, and the last third or so has trouble maintaining the electricity of what came before. But still: if you go to the theater to be entertained, rest assured you’ll be getting your money’s worth and more. At the very least, you’ll be able to bear witness to our finest actors in a glamorous competition to see which one of them can act the most — and sometimes, that’s really all you need.