As high society’s Patrizia Reggiani reaches for bottom-barrel tactics to get things done, the third meaning of Gucci’s interlacing Gs surfaces – and claims prominence. What used to be a dignified reference to the fashion house’s founder, and an alliterative signifier of wearable luxe, now becomes a tangible symbol for confinement. The state of being unconditionally bound to this greater thing for as long as time exists. One gets turned into the buckle for the belts or the clasp for the purses. One could kill to escape.

Fundamentally, House of Gucci is this escape, as depicted by Ridley Scott and based on Sara Gay Forden’s book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed. As the daughter of a truck driver, Patrizia (Lady Gaga) is not only at a disadvantage, but is also considered an unfavourable match for Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). According to papa Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), Patrizia’s blood is too lowly to mingle with the dynasty of which the tall, bespectacled, prospective lawyer is a part. Not like she cares. As long as there is love between the youths, evident in the smiles they share while on holiday, and in the (very literal) operatic sexual experience they share while at work.

The couple, especially Patrizia, are an ideal frame for writers Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna to sew the story on. When you break down the story, the whole that is the astonishing and well-publicised crime and punishment nature, is made up of pieces related to chemistry (or lack thereof) and primitive instincts. A marriage isn’t just between hearts but also houses, and considering the apparent discrepancies between whom Patrizia represents and that of Maurizio, viewers are in for one haute-domestic not-cioccolato storm.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Problem is, you can barely feel it throughout the 157 minute runtime here. This is no fault of the actors. Everyone shows up aware and open, including he who has a knack to be very aware and very open on sets – Jared Leto. Seriously, the hyper-accented and drunken-pitched presence of Leto’s Paolo, aspiring designer and disappointment magnet to Japanophilic manager Aldo (Al Pacino), is welcoming. It’s a full swing to the ville of campy thrills the film seems to have set its sights on from the start. And it’s fun there. But editor Claire Simpson will eventually get the pendulum back to where the crimes are at, which, while in sync with the bigger picture, gives rise to a diminishing experience.

There is a lack of connection in the cutting, rendering the “crime of passion amid high fashion” material less of an ideal singular fabric with contrasting patterns, and more two distinct pieces, an impression that Scott’s measured style would further highlight. You get to absorb the staccato flow with as much impact as the lusciousness in Janty Yates’ costumes or the ultra-opulence in Arthur Max’s production design. On that note, it does feel odd when, in the end, after all the back-and-forth between gloomy and grandiose, the only stimulus remaining that warrants registering – the visual beauty so blessed or burdened with legacy – is the very thing the story is framing as the root of murderous intentions.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

That neat zeroing-in on Patrizia and Maurizio from earlier, that little mark of humanity and personality among stringent wealth and the manic-moneyed mass, is no longer of consequence. When key storytelling elements consistently fail to reflect the charged nature of the scenario, Gaga’s all-in approach to exploring Patrizia, both as a relative scorned and a mastermind underestimated, don’t quite pay off. But if you have to make this experience worthwhile, you are better to divide House of Gucci up into two different studies of the same character. On one hand lies a woman struggling to find her footing, and on the other a force no one can see coming.

However, isn’t “value” what one should get from the whole and not from separate parts? Ridley Scott’s film appears to think it’s the latter, and that lack of cohesion makes this beautiful, awkwardly stacked house less of a genuine Italian legacy, and pushes it more toward “Italian-knockoff” status.

Rating: ★★

House of Gucci will be in US theatres November 24 and UK theatres November 26.

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Becky Johnston, Roberto Bentivegna

Cast: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, Jared Leto, Salma Hayek