Couture Clash: Would-be epic bauble ‘House of Gucci’ loses its luster in a long, long second half

Welcome to “Lives and Deaths of the Rich and Famous: Our Italian Cousins,” otherwise known as Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci.

Mega-prolific filmmaker Scott, who released two major films this year—this one and The Last Duel—once again visits Italy, this time for the story of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and his bumptious family. But the real draw is the family’s high-fashion business: shoes, handbags, ready-to-wear clothing, fragrances and the sizzling Italian style of sex and excess that audiences theoretically never get tired of.

In common with Scott’s tale of kidnapped oil-heir John Paul Getty III in All the Money in the World, life in the fast lane for Maurizio and his scheming relatives is characterized by ridiculously extravagant mansions, chauffeured luxury vehicles, Swiss villas and plenty of walking-around money. The idea being that if we grow weary of watching the violent unraveling of the marriage of Gucci scion Maurizio and his go-getter wife Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), which we certainly do, we can always fall back on ogling the décor.

That plan works for about half the running time. Gangling, reticent young Maurizio, fresh out of school, is trying to decide whether to join the rest of the Guccis in the marketplace, when he bumps into the bubbly Patrizia at a Milanese high-life party in 1978—she having already set her sights on the torpid rich kid from across the room. Her brazen come-on shocks the kid out of his loafers and they soon wed, despite the objections of Maurizio’s father Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons), the firm’s patriarch, who recoils at the thought of his son marrying into a family of truck drivers.

Patrizia is a quick study. She sizes up her new husband’s relatives—particularly volatile, horny old uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), head of Gucci’s New York City outpost, and Aldo’s son Paolo (Jared Leto), a bombastic buffoon who imagines himself an artist. Piece of cake. Patrizia learns where to get it and how to flaunt it.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider the whys and wherefores of this saga. Master stager of spectacles Scott should probably know better than to wade into another decadent-rich-family scenario at this point in his career—the screenplay is by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, from a book by Sara Gay Forden. But the lure of all those palazzi and fashion-show runways was no doubt hard to resist. Without devoting much study to the real-life Gucci company, we can imagine a typical range of outcomes, all unfortunate, to come from Maurizio and Patrizia’s ill-starred union. It’s been done before, innumerable times, from The Magnificent Ambersons to the upcoming Shakespeare yarn The Tragedy of Macbeth. We know how it’s bound to end without knowing the sordid details beforehand. However, Scott, the former ad man, excels at product shots, and we can soak up the lavish scenery while we’re waiting.

House of Gucci weighs in at a hefty 157 minutes, approximately half an hour more than it really needs. To kill time during the marital-combat portion of the program, we can mentally visualize which cast members we would replace if it were left up to us. Driver is probably the most overexposed actor in movies these days, yet he looks and feels right for the unhappy role of Maurizio. By contrast, Gaga’s shortcomings as an actor are laid bare every time Patrizia goes into one of her clichéd, ultra-Italian temper tantrums. At least she’s an actual Italian American.

Same could be said for Pacino, who along with the unrecognizable Leto, as Paolo the certified clown, and Salma Hayek, as the fortune teller, takes home a three-way share of the prize picnic ham for hyperventilating. Irons is comparatively well cast as the patriarch, and there’s nothing wrong with Camille Cottin’s turn as the Other Woman. Theaters should serve wine with this expensive, self-indulgent bauble of a film. Moviegoers will need it.

In theaters.
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