There’s a scene early in House of Gucci that serves as a perfect analogy for the tragedy—equal parts Greek and Shakespearean—that will ultimately bring down the rich and powerful fashion magnates. Adam Driver’s Maurizio Gucci compares eating a piece of delicious cake to joining his family. One taste won’t be enough. Once you’ve experienced such decadence you’ll want more and more, until it’s all you crave. Since one cannot survive on cake alone, you can guess what happens. Ultimately though that metaphor also ends up serving as a perfect analogy for the film itself. From start to finish it’s a wildly entertaining movie with a superb cast and an amazing wardrobe department. But despite its lengthy runtime, it somehow feels far too short. Because, for both good and bad, Ridley Scott has made a perfect Ryan Murphy TV series, but limited it to a single film.
House of Gucci is a whole lot of movie. It’s the exact film the trailers promised. It doesn’t crossover into full on camp, but it lives just a few doors down on Super Horny Avenue. (Yes, this movie is very thirsty.) The stylish film with a superb playlist of needle drops also features big, showy performances. The kind that might lead to Oscar nominations for its four stars: the aforementioned Driver, Lady Gaga, Al Pacino, and Jared Leto. (Salma Hayek might justifiably nab one too.) While the story itself is as compelling as the wardrobes, it’s the four of them who make this movie what it is. Not only do each of them completely own their character, they’re all having a blast playing them. Even during tense or emotional scenes, it always feels as though each actor can’t believe they’re being paid to have this much fun.
That’s especially true of Lady Gaga, whose Patrizia Reggiani goes from a delightful young woman to Lady MacBeth, all before deciding to become a modern day Medea. (Medea of Greek mythology, not the Tyler Perry movies.) She’s all in on the role and perfect for this movie. (Especially in all of her scenes with the equally incredible Salma Hayek.) If you had no idea Lady Gaga started her career as a wildly successful pop star you’d assume she’s one of Hollywood’s best actors.
Al Pacino of course is exactly that. And he stays true to form as Aldo Gucci, one of two brothers who rule over the Gucci family empire. (The other is Jeremy Irons’ Rodolfo Gucci. He’s, uh, in the film. One where he barely speaks with an Italian accent despite everyone else sounding like their parents were Super Mario and an espresso.) Pacino is charming yet ruthless, likable yet distasteful. He’s the film’s King Lear, only if King Lear had a great sense of humor and a moron son who stole every scene he’s in.
That honor belongs to an unrecognizable Jared Leto. If you’re not a Leto fan you’re going to hate this film, because it’s undeniable how good he is as the delusional Paolo Gucci. Paolo is a lovable clown with big dreams and no talent who can’t get out of his own way. Nor his family’s way. He’s consistently hilarious, intentionally or not, yet also sad. In the wrong hands he’d be intolerable. But Leto’s Paolo, like Gaga’s Patrizia, is exactly right for this film. He’s the tragicomedy answer to Fredo Corleone. An impossible task that Leto somehow pulls off. If not for Lady Gaga he’d own this movie.
Meanwhile, this is not Adam Driver’s most nuanced performance. Director Ridley Scott’s film is too big for true nuance. But compared to his costars, Driver’s doing a 200-seat black box performance of Hamlet for the first half of the movie. While that means he doesn’t stand out as much as the other stars, it’s exactly what the film calls for. His (relatively) understated Maurizio works as a a reflection of his character’s arc and the perils of living the high life. Maurizio undergoes the biggest transformation of all, starting out as a shy, mild-mannered student before becoming the fashion industry’s MacBeth. Unlike Shakespeare’s Scottish king though, you will like Maurizio immensely before turning on him entirely. Driver you’ll like the entire time. Especially the further away you get from the film. The more you reflect on his performance the better it gets.
As for Scott, he treats this familial tale (based on a true story) as equal parts comedy and tragedy. If anything it tilts more comedy and farce than sad. There are genuine laughs throughout. Many more than there are moments of true pathos or sympathy. That’s a big reason why the film is so consistently engaging and entertaining. Scott could have easily made a very different version of this movie, simply by switching the tone slightly. A little less fun and a little more serious would dramatically change how the movie plays. And that version would be a lot worse. We know because Scott already made that movie in 2017 with All the Money in the World.
That was another tale of a rich and powerful family’s demise. I’d rewatch House of Gucci a thousand times before I ever rewatched All the Money in the World. And if House of Gucci wasn’t destined to end up on Prime Video, and instead headed to cable on a station like HBO or Starz, I would. There’s something to enjoy in every scene. This is exactly the type of film you’d end up watching every time you came across it on TV.
Ultimately that’s where I wish this had ended up. Despite its lengthy runtime, House of Gucci feels incomplete. At one point in my notebook I wrote, “Is the middle part of the movie missing?” Because the main characters all made a huge, mostly unexplored leap from who they were to who they become. There are other moments like that, though on a much smaller scale, throughout. It’s the right call for the movie since it’s easy to fill in those gaps yourself. But it’s also hard not to think about how much fun they’d be to actually see. And they’d all be there in an eight-part TV series. Ryan Murphy is definitely going to have some regrets. As will FX’s European division. House of Gucci: Italian Crime Story was right there.
Ridley Scott has made a good film that is great at entertaining. And saying it left you wanting more is far from the worst criticism for any movie. But with everyone involved having a blast dressing in fancy clothes and doing such-ah big Italiano accents, it’s hard not to think about how much fun we missed out on by this story and this cast going to theaters instead of television. House of Gucci is a whole lot of movie. But it could have been even more.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.