There are two films in House of Gucci. One, the better one, is an excellently acted relationship drama helmed by Lady Gaga and Adam Driver. The other is a complete trainwreck, but a hilarious one; it is this bizarre buddy comedy that follows Jared Leto and Al Pacino as they try to out overact each other. Leto definitely wins, but that doesn’t mean Pacino isn’t trying. The issue is, even though one of the films within House of Gucci is the funniest comedy of the year (inadvertently so, but still so), the split focus makes the other end of the equation haphazard and eventually unsatisfying. The caricatures that overtake the comedy movie also push the film into exploitative territory, something made very clear by the closing statements about what happens to the real life people after the dramatisation ends.
To begin with the sincere positives, House of Gucci is an always engaging film with some very strong performances. The opening hour is especially good, in which Driver and Gaga are utterly charming and forge a brilliant beginning of a relationship story. The filmmaking, it being Ridley Scott, is always pretty workmanlike but the jukebox soundtrack and glitzy locations do a lot of lifting. House of Gucci takes the form of a Scorsese movie, minus the cinematic flair. A dash of flair, however, would have helped; though, the Scorsesian structure is compelling. Also, unlike some of Scorsese’s films about wild ascents and quick descents, House of Gucci doesn’t feel in love with the world or aesthetic it is ostensibly critiquing. This is mostly because the characters feel like cartoons, but also comes from the more pedestrian approach to filmmaking Scott adopts. This could so easily be wealth porn, and it isn’t. It focuses on seedy machinations and is character led, even when those characters lead the film off a cliff.
And, let’s deal with the cliff scenario. To be blunt, Jared Leto gives one of the worst performances in a major motion picture that I’ve seen in years. His obvious competitor would be Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending and, in both cases, the utterly terrible performances make the movies so much fun. The thing is, Jupiter Ascending seems to know this, and the film works because of this. House of Gucci just lets Jared Leto come in and trash the place, taking away the sincere quality the film often has, but leaving something undeniably entertaining in its place. His ‘Italian’ accent is more Waluigi than Gucci, his performance too. It’s mostly ridiculous handwaving, the wildest of intonation and contains no remnant of convincing humanity. I was in actual tears of laughter on several (yes, several) occasions, after his wild introduction where I realised he was going to talk and act like that, just seeing him on screen was enough to get me laughing in anticipation. And, yes, the script has him say ‘jokes’, lines that are supposed to be funny, in a quippy and sharp script kind of way. This is not why he is funny. It is a clear laughing at, but you’ll still be laughing. It is a hilarious film that brought me such joy. It probably shouldn’t have done and it definitely isn’t in line with the intent… That doesn’t mean it’s not the funniest film of the year.
Sadly, this utter hilarity does not help the film that House of Gucci is otherwise trying to be, and should be. This wants to be entertaining, yes, but in a prestige way. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite pull this off. The Driver and Gaga storyline is irreparably damaged by some dodgy plotting in which a character goes to Switzerland and gets a complete personality change. The film then bends around what they become and this dilutes its ongoing impact. What happens obviously happened, this is a true story, but the character arc is so badly handled. It is a poor telling of reality that robs it of just that. It also should concern Switzerland’s tourist board, as the impact of being in that country seems to be the ultimate villain of the piece.
House of Gucci is by the book but solidly entertaining filmmaking. Scott’s direction does enough to control the pace really well, the film does not feel its length, and is enough to get some strong performances. The curated soundtrack is well deployed and there are a handful of striking sequences that highlight the themes the film is going for. But, obviously, some of the performances (especially one) are very bad. Leto is the best part of the film, but this is not praise to him in any way. In the end, we have a film that ticks a lot of, but not all of, the boxes required to be sincerely good, but completely smashes the hilarious in spite of itself criteria. This makes it a hell of a watch. Is it a great movie? Hell no. Is it some of the most fun you will have in a cinema this year? Definitely.