Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci is an astounding maelstrom of overacting — two hours and 38 minutes of go-big-or-go-home, basically. Nearly all of the principal cast puts on their best Italian accents and goes for broke in this film inspired by a true story. Leading the charge is Lady Gaga — she of actual Italian stock — as Patrizia Reggiani, the woman who climbed the social ladder by marrying Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver, the most subdued cast member) and becoming involved in the Gucci fashion empire.
Gaga’s Patrizia is a spitfire, getting her Lady Macbeth on by convincing her husband, who had aspirations to be a lawyer, to look into the family business. But she doesn’t do this alone, getting help from Maurizio’s uncle and Gucci chairman Aldo (Al Pacino, bringing the trademark hamminess he’s able to turn up and down at will). Aldo is hoping his nephew will be his right-hand man, even though Maurizio was disowned by his ailing father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons, still suave even when looking sickly) for marrying a commoner like Patrizia. (Papa Gucci practically recoils in terror when she tells him her family works in ground transportation.)
Aldo would rather work with Maurizio than his buffoonish son Paolo, played by Jared Leto — and we have to detour to talk about Leto’s performance for a quick minute. Covered in prosthetics and a bald cap, Leto goes full-tilt, batshit-bananas as Paolo, a wannabe designer who speaks in malapropisms (he tells Maurizio he longs to be free “like a pigeon”) and dresses like a villain from the 1960s Batman TV series. His scenes with Pacino are master classes in scenery-chewing.
Seeing all these actors try to out-Italian each other is what makes Gucci such a watchable, quasi-absurd ride — and you get the sense that was part of Scott’s plan. Yes, this is an epic, fact-based tale of greed, betrayal and eventually murder, but Scott plays it like an opulent but grotesque satire, whose characters arrive with standard-issue Questionable Motives. (Wait until you meet Salma Hayek as Patrizia’s personal soothsayer.) And thanks to impeccable work from cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, production designer Arthur Max and costume designer Janty Yates, they all look stylish as hell while doing it.
Working from a script by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, Scott sprints through two decades to get to all the meaty moments his actors can sink their teeth into. Admittedly, a lot of the performances feature the kind of soap-opera histrionics you’d usually find in a Ryan Murphy show. (It’s a shame all this happened overseas — this saga would’ve made a great season of American Crime Story.) But the acting just gels with the story’s grandiosity. Even though there’s no cocaine use in this movie (somewhat shocking, since it’s a film about rich, decadent people), nearly everyone acts like they just did a bump before filming.
Perhaps the most revealing thing about Gucci is how it shows that the Gucci family was mainly made up of shitty businessmen. These gentlemen are so wrapped up in keeping their pristine family legacy intact that they often ignore how much money their empire is losing. And let’s not forget the fraud — be it tax fraud or making Gucci knockoffs — being committed. As much as the eyes-on-the-prize Patrizia tries to be an active member of the Gucci business, she’s no match for these men and their stubborn, scheming egos. By the time Maurizio predictably kicks her to the curb, she’s a full-fledged woman scorned, confidently choosing violence and reminding people you don’t mess with Italian women.
House of Gucci is one sophisticated, sharp-dressed trip of a movie.