Ultrahack Ridley Scott redefines banality in House of Gucci, a cornball reality drama. Recounting the 1995 murder of Gucci couturier heir Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) by his golddigger ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), Scott competes with such trash as Ryan Murphy’s salacious The Assassination of Gianni Versace and the wretched excess of the Housewives scripted-reality shows on TV. The selling of greed and reckless behavior (“You’re unstoppable!” Patrizia is told by Salma Hayek, playing a TV psychic and huckster named Pina) has become such a commonplace of all-around bad taste that it falls to Ultrahack to add his fancy advert-trained touch — as if he were making a sequel to The Godfather.
The major difference between The Godfather and House of Gucci is the difference between Francis Ford Coppola’s personal artistic investment and Scott’s cold-hearted indifference. Coppola turned a lewd, violent potboiler into an examination of personal, ethnic, and national conscience which is the opposite of Scott’s standard apathetic approach to whatever genre is on his schedule. Screenwriter Becky Johnston (whose career began with Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon) concocts another odd foray into Continental debauchery. She contrasts the snooty arriviste Gucci clan with Patrizia’s innate criminal instincts (she’s the vulgar, overdressed daughter of a trucking family).
Lady Gaga channels her own bug-eyed predation into Patrizia’s obsessive plan to get her hooks into Driver’s Maurizio, a naïf so ensconced in lazy privilege that he at first seems asexual, then a cipher. Scott scores their extended meet-ugly to period pop songs (George Michael’s “Faith,” Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again,” David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” and Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” the latter simply overpowering the movie). These hits superficially represent the era, yet they say nothing about the characters. Scott might as well have used Gaga’s own gnomic discography since he, like Gaga, extracts psychology and meaning from everything, including the characters’ deceitful interactions. Instead of Coppola’s fallen Americans, here’s a family of monsters.
Scott designs House of Gucci to fit with his own Fall-from-Grace Collection. Like The Counselor and All the Money in the World, it completes his “Crime Styles of the Rich and Famous” trilogy. At age 83, Scott vies with degenerate storytellers Ryan Murphy, Andy Cohen, and his protégé David Fincher to showcase lust and transgression as more important than morality. Scott’s only aesthetic achievement here is matching perfectly purple-pink wine in crystal glasses to the color of prosciutto being sliced in the background.
The failure and offense of House of Gucci lies in Ultrahack’s utter indifference to the tale’s ethical meaning. His trilogy of terror respects no emotion other than ruthlessness and treachery. Maybe that comes from being trained to make advertisements. As Jean-Luc Godard said when he filmed his first TV commercial (for the brand Marithé + François Girbaud), “it’s only 60 seconds, if it was any longer I’d have to lie.” Scott’s lie celebrates skullduggery. Patrizia’s attempted takeover leads to Gucci family warfare –particularly between the company’s founding brothers Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons doing his Boris Karloff impersonation) and Aldo (Al Pacino shamelessly echoing The Godfather).
“You’re an idiot but you’re my idiot,” Aldo tells his doofus son Paolo (Jared Leto) — wasted affection considering that Scott treats Paolo as a commedia dell’arte clown. His malapropisms are zingers, describing a crude dress as “a memory wrapped in Lycra.” Leto has the charm that Gaga lacks, making pudgy, stupid Paolo wryly sympathetic. His loser’s lament — “I could finally soar like a pigeon” — is an ironic performance worthy of Brando.
If audiences laugh at Paolo while cheering heartless Patrizia and Maurizio, Ultrahack will have succeeded in his Fincheresque aim of subverting empathy into callousness. There is a chance that Millennials will take House of Gucci for camp the same way audiences misread Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls. Scott’s I’ll-do-anything approach to storytelling in the fashion world can only inspire viewers to become desperate contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race.