Film Reviews

The House of Gucci

Published January 14, 2022
Maurizio falls for the wrong girl in 'The House of Gucci'

Shakespeare allegedly set tragedies and comedies in Italy because the stereotype of the excitable Italian was engraven on the Elizabethan mind. One finds the same view at the end of the 18th century in the memoirs of playwright, Vittorio Alfieri, who, caught in an adulterous affair with an English woman, was astonished by the calm, civilised attitude of the cuckolded husband. In Italy, he mused, it would be a matter of “daggers, poisons, beatings; or a least the wife’s incarceration”.

There is something Shakespearean about Ridley Scott’s The House of Gucci, a slow-building tragedy disguised as a comedy. Almost every character speaks English in an Italian accent, in the time-honoured way Hollywood conveys ‘foreignness’. The central protagonist, Maurizio Gucci, is played as a low-energy Prince Hamlet, by Adam Driver. Lady Gaga, as his ambitious wfe, Patrizia, goes full Lady Macbeth.

As for Al Pacino, as Maurizio’s uncle, Aldo Gucci, and Jared Leto, as Aldo’s hopeless son, Paolo, their portrayals verge on slapstick. It’s often hard to decide whether to be amused or appalled, as we watch this distinguished fashion house sliding into the abyss.

The film is based on the kind of story beloved of the tabloids. All the vital elements are present: extravagant wealth, a dynasty in decline, ferocious ambition, shady financial dealings, adultery and revenge. It’s a soap opera on the scale of Turandot, set among the new aristocracy of high fashion and global merchandising.

The first character we meet is Maurizio. The shy, introverted heir to the Gucci fashion empire is studying law, living in an unobtrusive manner in Milan, when he meets Patrizia Reggiani at a party. Maurizio is dressed with understated elegance. Patrizia is brassy and vulgar, fond of high heels and flesh-hugging outfits. In her day job she answers the phone for her father’s trucking company. As soon as she realises who Maurizio is, she fastens onto him like a bear trap.

Patrizia’s hold on Maurizio prompts his neurasthenic father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), to excommunicate his only son, who stubbornly goes to work for the Reggiani family trucking firm. Maurizio adapts so well to working-class life he is reluctant to have anything to do with his family, even when they try to mend the rift.

The overtures come, not from Rodolfo, but from uncle Aldo, who has given up on his own offspring, Paolo, a vain and silly ass, who wants to impose his creative genius on the brand. According to Tom Ford, the designer who would eventually bring Gucci back into the top ranks of the fashion industry, Pacino and Leto are completely over-the-top in these roles. The Gucci family has been unequivocal in its criticisms of the film, which they believe paints a false, insulting picture of the people involved. Anyone looking for historical veracity should be wary, but as comedy it’s wildly entertaining.

Lady Gaga’s Patrizia, who seems more of a caricature than anyone, was said by Ford to be “spot-on”. Gaga’s striking performance is the very opposite of her breakthrough role in A Star is Born (2018), in which she played a talented musician who takes her chances and becomes a star, leaving her lover and mentor in her wake. In The House of Gucci she is a greedy, calculating monster who can’t get enough of the high life, seeing Maurizo as little more than a tool to further her ambitions. At first he’s a love-sick fool, placid and easily manipulated, but he will grow a skin of steel. The Guccis argue that Scott and his scriptwriters have been too sympathetic to Patrizia, but one would have to be a Gucci to see it that way.

The movie is based on a book by Sara Gay Forden, subtitled: “A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed” – which makes Scott’s version seem restrained. The House of Gucci could have been a great B-movie in the hands of one of those fearless Italian directors such as Sergio Martino. It’s quite a feat to tell this tale in a way that manages to be anything other than sensational.

This saga, which leaves no-one untarnished, may be viewed as an old-fashoned morality tale. Although their wealth comes from commerce, the Guccis see themselves as a kind of aristocracy, no-one more so than Rodolfo, who wanders around his mansion in a dressing gown, musing on past glories. Their downfall will begin with the dubious business practices of uncle Aldo, who is convicted of tax evasion. It’s greed that undermines the facade of nobility.

This is also a story of unhappy families, with Maurizio’s sheltered childhood rendering him reserved and unworldly, easy prey for a determined seductress such as Patrizia. Paolo, on the other hand, is desperate to prove himself to a distant and contemptuous father. He’s unable to give up his delusions of grandeur even when Rodolfo informs him he is completely talentless.

The moral may be that all the money in the world can’t buy character – and here Patrizia emerges as a driving force. More street-wise than the Gucci heirs, she is has no doubts that happiness is chiefly a matter of money and power. Surround yourself with all the trappings of wealth and no-one will look down upon you – or so she believes, until the moment when Maurizio frees himself from her influence and acquires (or re-acquires) a more sophisticated group of friends.

The rage Patrizia feels is more than that of a woman scorned, it’s the fury of one who feels she has spent decades making an important man out of the most unpromising material. It’s also an expression of class hatred, a surging resentment that Maurizio has dumped her in favour of a new woman, and a group of friends with the kind of education, taste and breeding that makes her look like a peasant.

The Guccis would like to believe they have transcended crass materialism, but Patrizia is an unpleasant reminder that the foundations of this cosmopolitanism lie buried deep in the mud of the marketplace. Alfieri found the English version of jealousy to be “generous and evangelical”, but by the end of this movie Patrizia has revealed herself as the complete Italian traditionalist.



The House of Gucci

Directed by Ridley Scott

Written by Becky Johnston & Robert Bentivegna, after a book by Sara Gay Forden

Starring: Adam Driver, Lady Gaga, Al Pacino, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Salma Hayek, Youssef Kerkour, Camille Cottin

USA/Canada, rated MA 15+, 158 mins


Published in the Australian Financial Review, 15 January, 2022