Ridley Scott is among the last remaining directors who’s permitted to make movies without superheroes in them, and I guess we could do worse. Thanks to the COVID-clogged studio release pipeline, House of Gucci is Scott’s second film to hit screens in a little over a month, and after the sodden The Last Duel, which forced us to endure the same rape scene reenacted three times (in the name of art or feminism or medieval verisimilitude or something), it’s a truly garish, unwholesome pleasure.
In fact, if you only see one Ridley Scott movie this year—well, it should probably be Alien or Thelma and Louise. Those are pretty great movies, after all. But if you only see one Ridley Scott movie this year that was released this year, it should certainly be House of Gucci, a welcome dose of exuberant bad taste in a season that will no doubt be stuffy with award-worthiness.
If nothing else, this movie boasts the most exciting accents of 2021, by which I don’t—I really, really do not—mean the most accurate. Each “l” and “r” here is an adventure, a journey that transports you to some unexpected site in Europe, often far to the north and east of Italy. Al Pacino sounds occasionally as though he’s about to expropriate Yuri Zhivago’s dacha and at other times like he might turn into a bat and join the creatures of the night. House of Gucci can be as much fun as wandering into a Father Guido Sarducci convention, and if that’s not your idea of a good time, I don’t know what to tell you.
This, erm, enunciative flexibility would be a problem if anyone, from the screenwriters to the actors to Scott, viewed the fall of the Gucci clan as high tragedy, or even played it straight at all. Instead, House of Gucci begins from the assumption the rich are different from you or me—they’re much more ridiculous. And so, the film suggests, are Italians, but as a Moscarello on my mom’s side, let me remind you Of what André Cymone says. This is a film about excess, and that goes for the caricatures too.
Still, at the heart of Gucci is a flicker of genuine-ish emotion: the love-gone-wrong between middle-class striver Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) and fashion-biz scion Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). It all begins rom-comily enough, with Patrizia slightly intrigued by a young nerd she meets at a costume party; once she hears his surname she’s outright smitten. Gaga’s Patrizia barrels into the film with the charm of a screwball comedy go-getter, and Driver’s uptight Maurizio is a perfect mark. When his pretentious papa boots him out of the house for marrying below his station, he happily washes trucks for the Reggiani family business. (He never asked to be born a Gucci anyway.) And Patrizia doesn’t call the whole thing off—maybe she’s playing the long game, true, but she also loves the big doofus.
As for the rest of the Guccis… well, you can see why Maurizio wants to live his own life. Any family with Jeremy Irons as its patriarch is clearly doomed to steep decline. As Rodolfo, Maurizio’s father, Irons intones with actorly precision and carries himself as though he’s just been dusted for cobwebs. (He also married into money, which may be why he recognizes a fellow shark in Patrizia.) By contrast, his brother, Pacino’s robust Aldo Gucci, is a sucker for Patrizia’s gumption, and lures the couple to New York. (For 21st century Pacino, it’s honestly a pretty understated performance. He hardly shouts at all.)
OK, now this is the hard part: Jared Leto is hilarious. I understand this may cause some of you discomfort if not outright pain, but I can only report what I experienced. As Aldo’s son, Paolo (“an idiot, but he’s my idiot,” dad says), Leto is concealed beneath old-age makeup, a bald top, and scraggily hair in back, looking like he’s about to demand a great steering wheel that doesn’t fly off when you’re driving. His inflections recall the voice of Ed Sullivan’s mouse pal Topo Gigio. He warns Maurizio and Patrizia not to confuse “sheet” and “shoc-o-latt-a.” He disparages one character as a little “a leetle moose.” He pees vengefully on a scarf.
Paolo is such a clown, horrifying the rest of the clan with his foppish outfits, affected mannerisms, and designs that mix browns and pastels (!), that he throws off the curve: The other Guccis seem competent by comparison. But every plotter here is slightly out of his or her depth. For all her arriviste self-preservation, Patrizia is hampered by her class blinders, an inability to pick up social cues, so she’s never quite the right kind of too-much. Aldo believes the Gucci legacy is enough; Maurizio believes his name gives him insight to the brand. Each player has an overconfident faith in his or her vision of Gucci’s future. Oh, they’re all willing to backstab and do crimes.
House of Gucci is the latest two-and-a-half-hour movie that could have accomplished what it set out to in two—eventually it starts to drift rather than flow. The ’70s blur into the ’80s a bit too neatly, demarcated largely by Maurizio’s different bad hairstyles, as though all gaudy excess is the same to Scott. But eventually, the secondary characters recede into the background, and the focus shifts back to where it began, on Maurizio and Patrizia, whose marriage has not been strengthened by their business decisions.
Gaga inhabits the kind of antihero role usually reserved for dudes, a scheming yet unhateable bitch with an actual love for Maurizio, even as her pasta-plumped face glowers increasingly with vengeance. And now that Driver’s potential for brutality is a known quantity, he’s free to keep it in check, because we know what lurks beneath even when he’s hiding it behind that nervous, deeply lined rubbery smile.
The conclusion of House of Gucci will surprise nobody who knows the history of Gucci as a family or a business—and maybe not even someone who knows neither. Like Olivier Assayas’s Carlos or Scorsese’s The Irishman, House of Gucci relishes the eccentric, larger-than-life clashes of the late 20th century only to show how they’re ultimately just distractions from the real exercise of power. Once the petty personalities have picked one another off, capital and its coldest agents step in to sweep the board clean.
House of Gucci opens in theaters everywhere tomorrow.
Special Screenings This Week
Monday, Nov. 22
Not to be confused with Herzog’s Stroszek, screening later this week. $8. 7 & 9 p.m. Also Tuesday. More info here.
Wednesday, Nov. 24
Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Miyazaki’s first feature. $9-$12. 8 p.m. More info here.
Complicating Families: Best-of-Fest Shorts Program
Did you miss Mizna’s 2021 Arab Film Festival? Tonight you can catch up on some of that fest’s prime shorts, Including Darine Hotait’s Tallahassee, the audience award winner for best short film. $10. 7 p.m. More info here.
Thursday, Nov. 25
Swing Time (1936)
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, dancin’ as usual. $12. 7:30 p.m. More info here.
Friday, Nov. 26
White Christmas (1954)
The Heights’ annual White Christmas blitz is upon us. The film itself is preceded by a 20-minute performance by Maud Hixson and a Wurlitzer showcase. Through Sunday, Dec. 5. $18. 7:30 p.m. every day. Also 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. More info here.
Devil’s Triangle (2021)
It’s about time the Bermuda Triangle made a comeback, culturally. $8. 5 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Monday-Thursday. 1 p.m. Sunday. More info here.
Herzog does Wisconsin! Featuring the unique Bruno S. and an unforgettable dancing chicken. $8. 7 & 9:15 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 3 & 5:15 p.m. Sunday. More info here.
Saturday, Nov. 27
I know (think?) we all hate Joss Whedon now, but the film version of his truncated sc-fi show is worth preserving. $5-$10. 1 p.m. More info here.
Sunday, Nov. 28
West Side Story (1961)
Emagine Willow Creek/AMC Rosedale 14/AMC Southdale 16
Not Spielberg’s. The old one, with Natalie Wood not singing and two future Twin Peaks cast members. 3 & 7 p.m. Also Wednesday, 7 p.m. More info here.
The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974)
Who is Kasper Hauser? Why can’t he speak? Wouldn’t be much of an enigma if I told you, would it? Early Herzog, once more with Bruno S. $8. 7:30 Sunday. 7 & 9:15 p.m. Monday-Tuesday. More info here.
Wednesday, Dec. 1
December Tape Freaks
The theme for this month’s secret screening is “regional horror.” $5. 7 p.m. More info here.
Opening This Week
The Power of the Dog
Ongoing in Local Theaters
The Addams Family 2
Clifford the Big Red Dog
Dune (read our review here)
The French Dispatch (read our review here)
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (read our review here)
Last Night in Soho
My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission
No Time to Die (read our review here)
Ron’s Gone Wrong
Venom: Let There Be Carnage