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Emotional resonance isn’t House of Gucci’s strong suit, but it’s fun watching fashion royalty fall apart at the seams.

Fractured Fashion Family

Lady Gaga as Patrizia Gucci
Lady Gaga as Patrizia Gucci

“Quirky” isn’t an adjective typically associated with Ridley Scott’s movies, but it’s certainly appropriate for House of Gucci, or at the very least, the characters. Every once in a while, Scott will venture away from tech-laden science fiction (Alien, Blade Runner) and period pieces (The Duellists, Gladiator) and throw a curve ball like Matchstick Men or All the Money in the World. Even so, this one is an interesting departure from what might be considered Scott’s “norm.” And it’s also quite a feat considering Scott will mark his 84th birthday mere days after House of Gucci unfolds in theaters, and Scott already has four more directorial projects in the pipeline, including more Gladiator and still more Alien.

In this case, it takes a while to adjust to its strut, but as the movie moves along, its wares become more obvious and more enjoyable. Like an authentic Gucci, the devil is in the details.

For starters, it’s an eclectic collection of creatives. There are the screen legends: Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Salma Hayek. Then there are also those who rose through the ranks of the music industry, most notably Lady Gaga, a woman who needs no introduction but, nonetheless, she also received a Best Original Song Oscar — and a nomination for her acting — for 2018’s A Star Is Born remake. There’s Jared Leto, who won the Oscar for his supporting role in Dallas Buyers Club, and he’s also the front man for Thirty Seconds to Mars. And consider Reeve Carney, who takes on a supporting role as Tom Ford. Reeve Carney? Yeah. From the eponymous band Carney, but more notably the star of Bono and Edge’s troubled Broadway foray, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

That’s a formidable team of talent.

But the quality of the cast is closely followed by the quality of the quotability. The dialogue’s quote quotient makes it the Godfather of fashion movies. This one has lines perfect for shock value or to throw a conversation off kilter.

And, of course, there’s the crazy story. It’s based on Sara Gay Forden’s book, which chronicles the real-life events surrounding the famous — and pricey — fashion brand, a story that culminates with the very public murder of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver, The Last Duel).

Throw in some remarkable, transformative makeup, sew it all together and House of Cucci becomes a high-class and very well-dressed freak show, a troubling look behind the scenes of the high-stakes world of haute couture that also serves as a public service announcement: the lives of the ultra-wealthy aren’t necessarily as easy and cushy as the public relations experts, agents and lawyers might make it appear. Turns out some of those one-percenters relying on their name alone to afford them all the luxuries of the world aren’t any better — or smarter — than the below-average Giuseppe.

Stylish Manipulation

Things start out so innocently. Maurizio seems like a genuinely good man. His father, Rodolfo (Irons), the ailing patriarch of the Gucci empire, certainly considers him to be a “sweet son.” But Maurizio — Rodolfo’s only child — has no interest in the fashion business; he’s studying to be a lawyer. And he — at least at first — seems to be a little awkward around the ladies, particularly Lady Gaga, whose Patrizia Reggiani meets Maurizio at a swanky shindig. Is she merely a gold digger? A manipulative woman looking to trade up from the trucking “empire” owned by her father?

Well, House of Gucci keeps things fairly even keeled. Nobody comes out of this looking good, ironically enough. Ultimately, it’s the kind of non-fiction story in which there isn’t a traditional “protagonist” to root for; instead, audiences are afforded the vicarious thrill of watching the mighty and the pretentious fall.

As Patrizia swiftly makes her way into Maurizio’s life, she certainly seems to be in it for the wealth and the wealth alone, but then she also brings quite a bit of sharp business savvy that Maurizio can’t muster on his own. It’s an interesting dynamic to note, particularly as Maurizio turns into a manipulative troll within the family’s fashion empire. It’s a sordid mess of greed, backstabbing and shocking incompetence.

In the category of “incompetence,” Paolo (Leto) takes a strong lead. What a fascinating character. He has really, really bad taste in fashion and even his own father has written him off as an idiot. There’s a wonderful clash of sensibilities between his fashion moxie and design aesthetics (including a suit of lavender corduroy) that closely match those of the Joker, the character Leto played in 2016’s Suicide Squad. Even so, it’s also touching the movie’s end title cards note Paolo died penniless in the wake of all this madness. As for Leto, his performance as the Gucci most lacking in good taste is stunning; he is completely unrecognizable as he disappears into his role, embodies the character and delivers some of the movie’s best and funniest lines.

While less dramatic, Lady Gaga also alters her appearance, which itself includes a transformation over the course of the story as Patrizia descends into obsession while her marriage falls apart. Lady Gaga stands toe-to-toe with the seasoned veterans, holding her own against Irons and Pacino, while deftly facing off against Driver.

The Vatican of Fashion

No one in the extended Gucci family is particularly brilliant at business or adept at adapting. The fall of the House of Gucci came as Maurizio turned a blind eye on knockoffs; it’s stunning to think they were to some degree condoned and seen as an inconsequential aspect of the business, one that allowed the common housewife to live the illusion of being a Gucci customer. The action centers around the 1970s through the 1990s, back when “brand” wasn’t on the tip of every tongue (and “franchise” was still a relatively nascent term in the movie business, for that matter).

Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci
Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci

But brand management was only one part of the Gucci problem. Like any mismanaged business endeavor, Gucci fell on hard times thanks to declining sales and needed to seek out alternative financial lifelines. Even as the name started to rise while making fresh, positive fashion headlines under the modern artistic vision of Tom Ford, its value sank while making negative financial headlines as the company stopped selling very profitable “knick-knacks” and started hemorrhaging money even as Maurizio lived an extravagant life of luxury, residing in extravagant villas and cruising around town in the latest sports cars, including the (high brand) Lamborghini Countach.

From there, all it takes is a forged signature and a fortune teller to send things spiraling out of control, ultimately leading to cold-blooded murder.

The Evil Eye

A fortune teller? Enter Salma Hayek (Frida) as Pina Auriemma, one of the sensationalistic elements of this true-life Grimm tale. It’s the classic case of two toxic parties leading each other to a dark end as Pina and Patrizia forge a strange alliance, business relationship and companionship.

Pina tops it all off, the perfect capstone to a troubled world. The wonky behaviors and attitudes of the Gucci clan, the questionable motives of virtually every character entering the picture — it all ends with an unexpected reaction: a sigh of relief to not be a Gucci.

House of Gucci is one of those movies that is appreciated more as it settles in after the end credits roll. There’s a lot going on and a lot to admire, but as noted at the outset, it takes a while to get used to the movie’s own stylings.

One of the distractions early in the movie is an oddly misplaced use of George Michael’s Faith. Sure, it suitably sets the tone for Maurizio and Patrizia’s wedding, in which the Gucci family side of the aisle is completely empty, while the Regianni side is packed tight with onlookers. But for a movie paying close attention to the details while creating a sense of time and place, it’s a mismatch that could’ve easily been corrected with a David Bowie selection or any number of other options. It’s most definitely a minor issue, but a temporary distraction nonetheless.

From a certain point of view, that musical mismatch is strangely emblematic. The Gucci family would argue the marriage was a mismatch of Italian social circles, with Maurizio marrying beneath him. The marriage certainly is the beginning of the end for everybody on screen, but that’s also when the quotes start to fly and the fun really begins for the audience. You’ve gotta have faith.