Ridley Scott seems to have discovered the secret to making Jared Leto palatable: render him unrecognizable, make sure everything he says is incomprehensible, and limit his time on-screen to no more than ten minutes before reassuring the audience that he’s dead during the closing titles. There’s a very here-it-is-there-it-goes sensibility to a lot of Scott’s House of Gucci, which shuffles Jeremy Irons past us in the space of three or four brief scenes, never lingers long at any given location, and prefers to dispense with story in the form of quick, efficient conversations. This focus on brevity keeps the two-and-a-half-hour film moving along at a respectable clip and fosters a sense of opulent, impersonal placelessness well-suited to the family’s vacuous incompetence and flat, emotionally shallow mannerisms. One lavish apartment blends into the next, blends into the next, blends into the next, and so on and so on until it’s difficult to keep track of who lives where at what moment in the family’s history, which is, after all, the point. It’s all the same tired shit.
Into this vast, bland realm of faux-aristocratic mediocrity come awkward human mannequin Mauritzio Gucci (Adam Driver) and his dim-witted but relentless girlfriend and later wife Patrizia Reggiano (Lady Gaga). The pair are exceptional, selling the initial magnetic sexual connection between the two along with the hapless, unselfaware vapidity and venal power games which cause them to drift apart. Driver imbues Mauritzio with stiff, uncomfortable avoidance which seems to conceal a teenager’s glee at having nabbed the keys to his father’s car, a species of excitable but boring stupidity able to navigate the world of human interaction thanks only to his enormous inherited fortune. Gaga by contrast is sensual and conniving, smart enough to pit others against each other but not to maintain anything of her own, insightful enough to point out the right way forward for her husband’s company but not likeable enough to persuade him to pursue it.
Color By Numbers
Scott’s longtime cinematographer Dariusz Wolski opts for a desaturated palette throughout House of Gucci, avoiding primary colors for the most part. Thematically it’s of a piece with the film’s approach to depicting tasteless wealth, but on a purely sensual level there’s little to hold the eye. Scott’s camera is workmanlike, his tableaux of excess primly sterile. The film’s verve resides primarily in its oddball performances, from Jared Leto’s breathy, moronic Paulo, whose every utterance sounds like a desperate question, to his father Aldo Gucci’s (Al Pacino) constant gesticulating and oddly flattened affect. It’s enough to keep things entertaining, but both real substance and deep absurdity continually elude Scott’s adaptation of Sara Gay Forden’s book of the same name.
More than any skeletons from the closet of its titular family, what House of Gucci conjures up is the ghost of Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, a similar story told in superficially similar fashion and next to which Scott’s film looks especially unappetizing. Venal money-grubbers struggling for control of a corrupt enterprise. Lavish spending with no taste or restraint in sight. Bizarre, cartoonish characters with off-putting traits and affects. This last commonality illustrates the disconnect between the two films better than any other, making plain the deficit House of Gucci incurs by trying to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to painting the Gucci family in broad strokes while maintaining emotional distance from their human dysfunction. In approaching its salacious tabloid subject matter, Scott’s latest attempts to thread the needle between flash and substance. Unfortunately, it ends up missing both.