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House of Gucci (2021)::rating::2.5::rating::2.5

After 160 minutes of House of Gucci, I can confidently say I have no idea what the hell I just watched.  Is this a gloriously trashy piece of pop art–the Borgias of Melrose Place?  Or, are we watching a fumbling stab at legitimate Oscar bait, wherein people get boozy and holler at each other, while mascara flows down their cheeks?  Whichever category it belongs to, I can safely say the finished project just doesn’t hang together very well.  For a movie about high fashion, House of Gucci spends a lot of time clashing with itself.

Based on real events (and a subsequent book by Sara Gay Forden), the story details the sensational power struggle for the Gucci empire.  The story begins in the late 70s, where we meet Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a beautiful Italian girl desperate for entrée to a better life.  After she sees Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at a party, she zeroes in on him like a jungle cat.  He’s an aspiring lawyer, bright but painfully shy.  Maurizio is so awkwardly oblivious to her relentless flirting that Patrizia essentially has to ask herself out on his behalf.  Their courtship is as fast as it is emotionally dangerous:  He’s drawn to her blunt vivaciousness, while she enjoys how pliant and passive he is to her manipulation.

Maurizio’s meek vulnerability makes more sense when we meet his father.  Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) is aloof and haughty, and his occasional lashes of biting sarcasm serve to whip people back into their place.  His love for Maurizio is coated in permafrost, so much that a simple embrace might crack both of them like Ming porcelain.  Rodolfo is instantly put off by Patrizia’s brash personality, and–oh Dio Mio–her father’s unseemly job as president of a trucking company.  He voices disapproval, but Maurizio is adamant:  Patrizia is his great love, and they’re going to be married.

The young couple finds a more sympathetic ear in Aldo (Al Pacino), Rodolfo’s older brother.  Ebullient and gracious, Aldo couldn’t be more different than Rodolfo.  He takes an instant liking to Patrizia, and invites them to join the family business in New York City.  With her foot now in the door, Patrizia offers aggressive ideas to shake up the Gucci brand and put her personal stamp on the family business.  This puts increasing strain on her marriage, as the introverted Maurizio is reluctant to rock the boat.

Meanwhile, a new participant in the family dynamic emerges in Paolo (Jered Leto), Aldo’s son.  He’s the Fredo of this family:  Ambitious, dimwitted, and in dire need of validation.  Paolo wants introduce his mediocre designs to the Gucci lineup, which puts him in direct conflict with Patrizia’s agenda.  The ensuing battle bears the potential to destroy the entire family, and will ultimately yield violent results.

Wanna hear the crazy thing?  After all that plot, we’re barely halfway through this damn movie.  Gucci is epic in length, but lacks the coherence to match.  There are fitful moments of black comedy next to searing moments of overheated drama.  This gobbledegook could’ve been a lot more funny if it didn’t drown in its own self-importance.

And that brings me to the movie’s real elephant in the room–the performances.  Driver does fine work as the tightly-wound Maurizio.  Everybody else is a big ol’ bag of mixed nuts:  We’ll start with an unrecognizable Leto, who looks like Robert De Niro playing Chef Boyardee in a Martin Scorsese biopic.  His goofy Italian lilt makes Mario and Luigi sound authentic.  This might be an incredibly brave performance, or a howling Hindenburg disaster that brings the entire movie down in a billowing ball of flames.  Or, honestly, both.  In any case, Leto traipses through this gaudy spectacle like a walking, talking middle finger, and it’s truly a sight to behold.

Her moose-and-squirrel accent aside, Gaga scorches as the hotheaded Patrizia, who blurs the line between savvy and conniving.  Even at 160 minutes, the film rushes through Patrizia’s emotional and moral decline, but Gaga does a convincing job as a woman unraveled by her own greed.  Pacino goes hilariously over the top, as if he wants to join Leto’s hayride off the deep end.  There are moments when the two of them belong in a whole other movie.  And whether that movie is better or worse than House of Gucci, I really can’t say.

What I can say is that in the hands of the venerable Ridley Scott, this is a great-looking film.  We get gorgeous, sweeping pans across Tuscan villas and Manhattan penthouses.  Unfortunately Gucci goes on just long enough to collapse under scrutiny.  As characters with poofy 80s hairdos strut through a scene, accompanied by Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” I couldn’t help but giggle at the sheer silliness of this.  I know that House of Gucci depicts real-life craziness, but just how seriously are we supposed to take all this?  In my case, not nearly enough.

158 min.  R.  On Demand.

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