There’s a moment in House of Gucci where Al Pacino’s Aldo Gucci advises his nephew Maurizio (Adam Driver) and his wife, low-class femme fatale Patrizia (Lady Gaga), to breathe in deeply and taste the scent of tradition. But they’re at the Gucci family farm/tannery, where pampered cattle are raised under luxurious conditions in order to produce the finest possible leather. They’re literally standing next to a herd of happy bovines. What they’re smelling is bullshit.
That’s the thesis — I think — of Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, a sprawling, messy, self-indulgent account of the relationship between Gucci heir Maurizio and Patrizia, from their meet-cute at a disco-inflected party in 1978 up to his assassination in 1995. She had him whacked to prevent his upcoming second marriage from downsizing her alimony. Her personal psychic, Pina Auriemma (Salma Hayek), brokered the deal with the hitmen. Yes, Salma Hayek turns up in this thing in a small supporting role as a medium — that’s how large House of Gucci goes.
But going large is the order of the day — everything is excessive here. The production design, the exotic locations, the costumes (it’s a film about a fashion dynasty, after all), and especially the performances. And especially, especially the accents, with everyone bar Driver doing a full-on “it’sa me, Mario!” voice. Driver is the straight man, his comparatively subdued turn making everyone else look even more grotesque. Grotesque rich people doing awful things is a Ridley Scott staple; All the Money in the World (2017) is the obvious point of comparison, but even Gladiator (2000) had Commodus. Hell, even Blade Runner (1982) had Tyrell.
But House of Gucci goes out of its way to try and make us understand that all the talk of wealth and class and being born to the purple is self-aggrandizing bullshit. It’s just branding. At the end of the film, we’re told that nobody named Gucci currently works for Gucci — it’s only the label that matters, but early on Maurizio tells Patrizia that his family’s pretentions to nobility are just that — pretend. Granddad was a hotel porter with an eye for good leather goods who rolled the dice on founding a label and saw them come up boxcars; once the money hit, it was easy enough to buy class. It’s a fun revelation; up until that point, Patrizia has been framed as a gold digger ruthlessly seducing a merchant prince for her own advantage, but understanding that the Guccis are nouveau riche themselves, only a generation or two removed, refocuses the film, sharpening its satire.