Set in a world of high fashion and higher opulence, House of Gucci is nothing if not gorgeous to look at. As a man who once considered being a designer by trade, Scott brings again the same painterly eye that makes so many of his pictures a visual delight. Unleashed on the fashion world, the director wallows in the small details, such as how the seamstresses and models dance like marionettes beneath their moneyed benefactors, represented here as loudly as Leto in a fat suit downing glasses of champagne in the catwalks above.
Even so, for all the film’s excesses and propulsive ‘80s pop song grooves, the movie feels faintly bare and distant. It’s even clinical in its often gray color palette. Which is not to say the film is disinterested with its ensemble of eccentric characters. The screenplay by Becky Johnson and Roberto Bentivenga thrives on Patrizia’s manipulations and indulgences. However, the finished product neither judges or particularly celebrates its central character’s cunning; rather it just observes her like a reality TV producer enamored with their muse.
In that role, Gaga can be delicious. She plays Patrizia as a woman who’s regal before she has power yet remains desperate even after attaining it. Her turn is also well paired with Driver’s more introspective counterpoint. Making even a so-so Italian accent seem natural and right, Driver is restrained where Gaga is grandiose. But the film never decides which instinct should dominate their passion play. Driver fits the movie’s desaturated aesthetic, but the rest of the ensemble is asked to cultivate a tone wherein Pacino’s standard scenery-chewing appears small by comparison.
Indeed, Pacino looks like a modest performer when partnered in many of his scenes with Leto, who in his bald cap, extravagant mustache, and leisure suits would be considered a bit much even on SNL. I know there’s been some Oscar buzz for Leto’s turn as the Gucci black sheep, but frankly there were more grounded “Italian” line readings in Super Mario Sunshine. With that said, such choices give newfound appreciation for Scott insisting none of his American actors attempt French accents in The Last Duel.
Similarly, the contrast between the two new Scott pictures is fascinating given their proximity. The Last Duel is one of the best pictures of 2021, and certainly one of the most underrated. But where that movie handled sensitive subject matter with intelligence and delicacy, House of Gucci takes on potentially gaudy material and fails to shape it into much of anything. Perhaps if it was a movie more in line with Leto’s performance, it could’ve worked as a soapy kitsch extravaganza, but in its current form the movie has the length of one of Scott’s great historical epics but the instincts of a Deuxmoi post looking to spill the juiciest tea. Well, by film’s end everything’s spilt, and it’s still a bore.
House of Gucci opens in the U.S. on Nov. 24 and the UK on Nov. 26.
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