Ridley Scott's second film of 2021 sometimes trips over its own silliness, but there's an irresistible gloss to this overacted saga
When it comes to elephantine historical epics, there are few filmmakers more qualified than Ridley Scott. House of Gucci isn't even his first historical epic of 2021, coming hot on the heels of the bone-crunching medieval drama The Last Duel. This one is far messier than its immediate predecessor, but it still makes for an enjoyably ludicrous experience, Scott delivering an absurd, soapy melodrama that sprawls across an immense runtime, performed by one of the year’s starriest casts.
Though it picks up plenty of side stories over its nearly three-hour runtime, House of Gucci is fundamentally concerned with 17 years in the life of Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a working class woman who rose to power and fortune after marrying into the Gucci family via the whimsical Maurizio (Adam Driver). Maurizio is a charmer, but doesn’t really have a head for business, or the stomach for the back-stabbing it entails, so the smarter, more insightful (but also rather madder) Patrizia becomes a Lady Macbeth without the Macbeth, saving all the scheming and eventual murder for herself.
Where House of Gucci eventually goes is so absurd that it would be utterly unbelievable if it weren’t true, and Becky Johnston’s script leans in to this absurdity, allowing the actors to give some of their silliest performances to date. Everyone’s doing a Mario Bros-style Italian accent and clearly having fun with it in a movie where, fittingly for its milieu of ridiculous wealth, too much is never nearly enough. In the lead, Gaga sets the tone with a vampish, maniacal display, while Driver is at peak gangliness as Maurizio, always looking like he’s about to topple over.
With the exception of Jack Huston, who seems like he’s having a great time playing the straight man as Maurizio’s lawyer and advisor, overacting is clearly the name of Scott’s game here, and he’s brought in some of the best scenery chewers in the business, from Al Pacino to Jeremy Irons to a wonderfully witchy Salma Hayek, who plays a psychic with Mafia connections. In the war of cartoonish performances, though, there can eventually be only one winner, and that winner is Jared Leto. Playing Maurizio’s cousin Paolo through a fat suit, bald cap, and an accent that would make Waluigi blush, his broadness strains even the nonsensical confines of House of Gucci, and scenes in which he shares the screen with Pacino are simply hilarious.
Whilst this does all mean that House of Gucci is often very entertaining – though you do feel it sagging at points – it also means it's hared to care what happens from moment to moment. Even with all the time afforded to it, this story often feels rushed. Patrizia and Maurizio’s central relationship is especially hard to buy into, Gaga and Driver lacking the sort of white-hot chemistry she and Bradley Cooper shared in A Star Is Born.
Surprisingly, given its ties to fashion, House of Gucci also doesn’t look that great. Scott employs a similar colour palette here to the one he did in The Last Duel, filling the screen with muted greys and browns, which never feels quite right for a big-budget story about an iconic fashion house. This is partly the point, of course, Scott repeating an impressive trick from All the Money in the World as to make the Guccis’ wealth look stupid and ugly – something that most films about ostensibly heinous rich people fail to do. Still, you can’t help but miss the visual pizzaz.
Like all of Scott’s most memorable 21st century work, House of Gucci is simply colossal, a big lumbering beast of a thing that flattens a lot of its human drama out in favour of spectacle. Where that spectacle might come from big battles in Kingdom of Heaven or alien horror in Prometheus, however, here it comes in the form in some of the most wildly unhinged performances you could hope to see in a major awards player. It does sometimes threaten to drown in its own silliness, but whenever it’s able to keep its head above water, it’s an absolute blast, an intoxicating dive into the dangers of being part of a dynasty.
House of Gucci is in cinemas from 26 November.Where to watch