Once Patrizia gets her foot in the door, a maniacal drive for total control takes over. Her insatiability is a boundless demon that carves out the divide which tears the family apart, but it’s ultimately uninteresting. She has no great plans for Gucci, and she’s not shown as particularly hungry for public praise. The film, as written by thin-resumed Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, doesn’t even give Patrizia the meager motivation of a humble upbringing or belittling parents. She wants more because the film requires her to. As the instigator of events, Patrizia is a mere plot engine. It wouldn’t work to make a sympathetic character out of a contract murderer, but it’s not disrespectful towards her victim or condoning of her misdeed if the viewer understands why she did the thing. House of Gucci makes her opaque and devalues Gaga’s solid performance by not giving more to work with.
The men surrounding her are alternately better and worse off. Pacino is having fun as the avuncular Aldo, a role that complements his work in The Irishman by demonstrating how much he’s got left in the tank. He’s the only source of pathos in the film because his stakes, continued relevance within a company his father founded and that he’s guided towards its present success, are the clearest. He’s the one showing off his appreciation for the leather in the aforementioned scene, and, thanks to Pacino, his love for his work is the only real thing in the film. Conversely, Driver is a puppet on Patrizia’s string, taking actions because she’s not-so-subtly pushing him to for reasons he couldn’t explain. As much as Patrizia is defined down by her single-minded focus on control, Maurizio lacks even that as a motivator. Driver runs into the limits of his considerable talent by not being able to elevate a character this thin.
The opposite of thin is the fat-suit clad and heavily made-up Jared Leto as Paulo Gucci, Arlo’s incompetent son. Pundits threatened an Oscar nomination for Leto, and such a thing would’ve given me a stroke. Paulo is theoretically a character that could work because he wants something recognizable i.e. respect from his family. He’s a frustrated designer whose ideas are scoffed at by his imperious uncle and sidelined by his father, but Leto plays him as such a caricature that he’s impossible to take seriously. The film agrees with that sentiment, using editing to make him look even more foolish and poke fun at his agony. While everything Jared Leto does is worthy of derision, a character whose failure is a punch line can’t work next to a character like Arlo whose failure is supposed to be painful. The clash in tones is indicative of the fatal flaw of House of Gucci, in that it cannot decide what kind of story it wants to tell. Pacino’s in a painful rise-and-fall story while Leto’s in Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker spoof.
A film about a fashion house should be lousy with costume design, and House of Gucci does fill that part of its production budget. Patrizia especially has some memorable looks in the film. However, for the fashion-unconscious, there’s little sense of momentum or inspiration to the company during the decade-plus timeline of the film. It’s impossible to tell if a fashion show is good or bad without the characters explicitly saying as much afterward, which they do in clunky exposition. On the business side, a dispute arises between Maurizio and Patrizia and Arlo over the sale of counterfeit goods, with the former concerned about brand devaluation and the latter taking imitation as harmless flattery. That’s a credible difference in philosophy that could drive the split between them, but it’s not a recurring theme as much it’s a single reference. Connecting the personal philosophy of characters to their actions would seemingly be essential screenwriting, but that’s just not the case with House of Gucci.
It's not like Scott has thrown in the towel and is incapable of making something great well into his 80’s. The Last Duel is as inventive and form-breaking as anything Scott’s done previously, and deserves to stand alongside the major works of his career. House of Gucci is just a rote retelling of a lurid event, told with some style and competence but no depth. This story needed a director with some kind of camp sensibility or a more lurid sense of extravagance. Scott’s strengths, like his talent for world-building and his sense of scale and viscerality, are not well-suited to this material, especially compared to Wong Kar-wai, who was briefly attached. Scott’s a director who regularly vacillates between great and mediocre, and he was able to remind viewers of this tendency within a single autumn month. C