When I saw House of Gucci the first time, I had that same slightly unsettled feeling that most of the people I have spoken to or seen write about the film seem to have.
What stuck with me was the notion that I loved Jared Leto’s Paolo Gucci… and in the second half of the movie, his relationship with his father, Aldo, played by Al Pacino. I would happily watch a movie with the two of them alone for 90 minutes.
I also quite liked the performance by Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani. She was willing to play someone who loses and is often unlikable. And I loved her late-developing relationship with Salma Hayek’s Pina. Together, they were a team of the unhappy, finding comfort in one another, and the continuing comforts of Gucci money.
My ire was focused on Adam Driver as Maurizio Gucci, who just didn’t convince me as his character made the sudden turn from grateful apprentice to Patrizia’s creation to brazen asshole, as he hooks up with the tall, skinny blonde for whom he had once lusted. (Not coincidentally, she is the opposite of Patrizia, who is small and curvy and made up to the hilt while the film’s Paola Franchi has perfect facial structure and barely wears make-up or styles her hair.)
But then, I saw the movie again and the problem with the movie became crystal clear. And it wasn’t that complicated.
The movie wants to be House of Gucci. That is when it is at its best. And what they decided to make was Patrizia Reggiani Wants To Be A Gucci… which has its charms, but is just not that interesting, ultimately.
Instead of the movie being about a dynasty frozen by its inability to navigate the period’s licensing obsession and keep it fresh… two older men who love what was but can’t move forward… two sons who can bring something to the future but are kept at arms distance… and then, with the death of one of the elders, the ice cold fight to take control of the company… this is the movie that has most of the good scenes in the film… but it’s maybe half of the movie. And half of the movie is about an emotionally stilted man who is brought to life by a woman and who, once he has some blood in his veins, dumps her for a sleeker, more stylish model.
Again… I am a fan of the Gaga performance. It’s not that. And it’s not really Adam Driver’s fault. If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage. And the movie about the man who outgrows the woman who made him a man is old news, no matter how cool or good the actors.
(The central SPOILER that is mostly given away in marketing, about how the movie ends for Maurizio Gucci. Not spoiling anything else, really. Proceed if you dare!)
I understand that, in the third act, we keep going back to Patrizia because the big close is coming and yadda yadda yadda. But do we really care by the end? In fact, do we care if Maurizio even lives or dies?
But it gets worse…
I read an article by Sara Forden, who wrote the book on which the movie is based, about finally getting to talk to Sheree McLaughlin in depth about what happened. She is the real-life person with whom Maurizio started an affair in 1985. After they split in 1985, he would start with Paola Franchi in 1990, with whom he was until his murder.
And wow… what a story! (Bloomberg subscription req, unless viewed on Apple News)
It sure isn’t “Maurizio runs into an old wannbe-flame by coincidence and starts an affair that will split him from his wife.” Maurizio actually chased the married Sheree for a long while after meeting her on the sea in the build-up to the America’s Cup. He confessed all his frustrations to this woman, building a deep relationship. And when he left Patrizia in 1985 (not on a motorcycle, running from the authorities, but as instantly as the movie shows), she says, “I was the catalyst. I didn’t want to break up his marriage, but he said it was already broken.”
Another quote from the terrific story…
“In the first few years after they met, Sheree took the Concorde back and forth between New York and London or Paris to see him. He would pick her up from the airport in his black Ferrari and drive her to St. Moritz, where he’d inherited his father’s chalet. “We would get clocked and pulled over doing 200 kilometers an hour,” she says. “He would have to pay somebody something like $5,000 not to get a ticket.”
This isn’t the guy Adam Driver is playing in this movie. This guy was passionate and fun. This is a guy who would be interesting to watch.
And more importantly, it is a guy whose break from Patrizia would be all the more painful and rich to watch. Patrizia was what he needed… and then, Sheree was what he needed and wanted. Then, there was Paola, who he needed and wanted. The dividing line between these women and Patrizia was clear. The movie insists on drawing us into continuing sympathy with Patrizia, but the real story is a much clearer picture of how things happen. It makes the simplicity of Maurizio’s clean break distinctly more kind and more cruel.
But here is the bigger picture issue… even if you balance Maurizio’s romantic life better… the movie is still meant to be about the House of Gucci. The split from Patrizia should have been the close of the 1st act. The 2nd act should have been all the machinations Maurizio engaged to try to rebuild Gucci, the 1988 betrayal of Aldo and Paolo, and probably the end of his relationship with Sheree. And then, in the 3rd act, as the Invesco and Tom Ford Gucci is coming together, his relationship with Paola, Maurizio is pushed out (1993). 2 years later, Patrizia & Pina work themselves up into deciding to have him killed.
But who wanted to take Lady Gaga out of the movie for 45 minutes in the middle while we deal with 2 relationships for Maurizio?
I, of course, have no idea how the process of developing this script went, especially beat by beat. But somehow, there was a decision to combine certain elements (like the 2 women) and to keep Patrizia close to the action for most of the movie.
House of Gucci is really Maurizio’s story. It’s his journey. It’s the journey of the Guccis, who Patrizia was one of (kinda) for 15 years… then not for a decade… then very much a part of the story.
But instead, Patrizia not only is equal, storywise, but dominant. And it unbalances the piece. Because as much as I loved watching Gaga and Salma drown their sorrows in wine and money and mud - and these are wonderful scenes - the story isn’t hers. It’s as though the domestic drama of Karen and Henry Hill dominated Goodfellas. Karen is incredibly important. Her scenes define so much. But Karen is not the co-lead.
Also… the focus on Patrizia ends up making the scenes with Aldo and Paolo seem like add-ons, which they should not. Our focus is the marital relationship.. not the Guccis. But Guccis keep turning up, in great scenes, for good reason. The film kept wanting more of them. The scene with Aldo at the business table (don’t want to spoil it more) is great… but it should be greater… but the movie’s focus is elsewhere… even as it keeps telling us that the theme is the transition from the craftsmanship and individuality that was Gucci into the modern corporation that it became, quite successfully, after Aldo.
To make yet another Scorsese reference… the end of Casino, when you see the old casinos all being blown up on the strip, as they were… that is what we should feel in that scene with Aldo. For me, I got that intellectually… but it didn’t work as it should in the movie emotionally, because - again - focus is elsewhere.
In my imagination, the ideal subtextual feeling at the end of House of Gucci is that Patrizia, who understood the magic of Gucci, returns as a conceptual, not literal, ghost of what was, coming for Maurizio, who didn’t respect that magic… who had, in this film, the soul of a lawyer, not someone who takes care of people’s intimate comforts.
Instead, it feels like a woman who is still attractive and moneyed and free in her life in many ways pining for a man and unable to move along, eventually deciding to take the shortest, deeply inappropriate route to “freedom” while on a bender.
Of course, you can’t tell exactly the true story in exactly the time frames. I get that. 100%. But in this case, the story is great and has a natural structure and should have been better respected. In the end, it is why the film doesn’t seem to be a smooth and complete tale… even as beautifully it is made and acted and as great as many of the words are.
Maybe the movie they shot was more like the real story. Very possible. Some pieces may not have worked as well as Sir Ridley intended and they tried to fix it in post. Gaga is a home run on screen. Leto. Pacino. Driver… less so in this story. Or maybe they wrote it very much this way and just missed the thread. But man… Sir Ridley is usually pretty damned good at finding the beating heart and sticking with it.
Regardless of how this happened - and I won’t pretend this is “Inside The Making Of” because that is almost always a big fat lie - the movie is the movie is the movie. I would recommend the experience to anyone. There is a ton of tasty candy inside this misshapen shell. I just wish that it didn’t have the aftertaste of having used the “wrong” recipe.