House of Gucci

It’s easy to lose interest in House of Gucci, a tale of a real-life family feud, corporate backstabbing and capitalist intrigue directed by Ridley Scott. Unlike the fashion brand, and its pricey offerings, the lines and the cuts of the narrative aren’t seamless or chic.

This almost-straightforward account of the fall of the House of Gucci takes some getting used to, because one is thrust in the thick of it without a proper introduction to its setting, or the people we should be empathising with.

Actually, there’s little to empathise with at all. House of Gucci is not a rags-to-riches story (everyone is rich to begin with) where the characters reach for a certain goal; there is no goal at all. What we have, mostly, is familial bickering in Italian-accented English.

The film is not an origin story of the man who started the brand — that gentleman would be Guccio Gucci. Instead, the emphasis moves two generations down to Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the eventual co-heir of the Gucci empire, who is uninterested in his father’s business (the father, Rodolfo Gucci, is played by Jeremy Irons).

Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci sways between mediocrity and effectiveness, when it could have been excellent, while Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up is a stunning masterpiece of satire, though its sweeping ridicule is also its shortfall

Maurizio falls in love with Patrizia Reggiani, in what would be the loosest definition of the term according to the adapted screenplay by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna (Lady Gaga, now a veritable powerhouse of an actress, plays Reggiani).

The young Maurizio, with aspirations for a career in law, rebels from his father, washes trucks for a time, and returns home to take over half of the Gucci business before dad dies. He, however, doesn’t have the drive or the astuteness to bring the brand into the new age (the story moves from 1978 to 1997; the decades can often be identified by the soundtrack’s changing playlist).

The Gucci brand, as far as one can deduce, is handled well enough by Maurizio’s uncle Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino), who loves him more than his son Paolo Gucci (an almost unrecognisable Jered Leto). From this juncture, the story plummets into deceit and intrigue, and loses the audience.

Scott is inundated by the Guccis’ story (he has been trying to get this film made since 2006), and his closeness to the subject can be seen first-hand by his familiarity with the characters. Like all passion projects of directors, this intimacy is dangerous for the casual viewer (like me, and perhaps most others), whose understanding of the brand stops at the Gucci logo and the price tag. Reading Wikipedia doesn’t help either.

The cast — Leto, Pacino, Irons, Selma Hayek (who is actually married to the chairman and CEO of the conglomerate that currently owns Gucci) — alleviate the hard edges of the story as much as they can. Driver and Gaga — the centerpieces of the story — have hypnotic chemistry, and the film, in its first 30 minutes of their young days, really flies. However, the reasoning that led to their separation and eventual divorce feels hollow, like the narrative.

House of Gucci sways between mediocrity and effectiveness, when it could have been excellent. One can see it in the frames from cinematographer Dariusz Wolski; they immediately remind one of how interesting high-profile studio films used to look 20 years ago. The production, costume design and make-up design will get nominations for sure.

Charting a well-known family’s account is fine fodder for a high-profile awards season film, but the story and its intrigue never reaches that cinematic high worthy of a memorable motion picture.

Adapted from Sara Gay Forden’s book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, House of Gucci is rated R. The film has a lot of yelling, brief scenes of sex, strong, Italian-accented performances and a two-and-half hour long running time.

Don’t Look Up

This official synopsis says it all: “Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), an astronomy grad student, and her professor Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) make an astounding discovery of a comet orbiting within the solar system. The problem — it’s on a direct collision course with Earth. The other problem? No one really seems to care. Turns out warning mankind about a planet-killer the size of Mount Everest is an inconvenient fact to navigate. With the help of Dr Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), Kate and Randall embark on a media tour that takes them from the office of an indifferent President Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her sycophantic son and Chief of Staff, Jason (Jonah Hill), to the airwaves of The Daily Rip, an upbeat morning show hosted by Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). With only six months until the comet makes impact, managing the 24-hour news cycle and gaining the attention of the social media-obsessed public before it’s too late proves shockingly comical — what will it take to get the world to just look up?!”

What will it take, indeed? A hard slap in the form of a very timely, relatable satire? Surely, that’s not enough, even for the critics; the film review aggregation site Metacritic sums the film’s overall rating to a flat 50 percent at the time of this writing, but that shouldn’t dissuade one to check out the film on Netflix — it has all the ingredients of a good film: good performances, good production value, a good scare.

A film about Earth’s immediate environmental jeopardies would have been more harrowing and realistic, but a film about a Himalaya-sized rock plummeting from space — ala Armageddon and Deep Impact — now that’s not nearly as harrowing, or realistic, one would think — and the deduction would be right and wrong at the same time.

Adam McKay’s stark, saddening spoof is a stunning masterpiece. It’s as serious as a critical head injury after slipping off a banana peel.

McKay’s brand of satire is still in prime shape, even if it is gradually swerving from realistically dramatic (The Big Short) to bizarrely realistic (Vice). Still, Don’t Look Up may be the most cinematic fun anyone has had with the ‘end-of-the-world’ premise since Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 classic black comedy, Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

The film is wackier, perhaps more dead-serious parodic, when its two earnestly flummoxed central characters, played by Lawrence and DiCaprio, are screaming their concerns to the people of the world. We, the audience, immediately realise the futility of their shrieking; no matter how hard they cry, no one in the world is willing to listen.

McKay’s film ridicules everyone in a single sweep: the people of Earth, whose consciousness is commandeered by social media and trending celebrities (Ariana Grande in a small role); the unserious, willful misunderstanding of the media; the greed of money-grubbing tech companies (Mark Rylance, playing a sketchy, peevish, recluse tech-mogul is a hoot) — but most of all, the incompetence of the government that places politics and polls over the survival of the very planet their voters live in.

Yes, ridiculing is Don’t Look Up’s principal concern, and that may also be its biggest shortfall. The thing is, what we see on screen could easily pass off in real life…and that’s what we should be afraid of.

Yes, the actors are playing out extremely goofy caricatures, but remove the glib covering and one is likely to see our own tendency to embrace misinformation, our craving for fleeting, material comforts, capitalism, and general negligence, staring right back at us.

Open your eyes, and look up. The message will hit harder than the asteroid.

Rated R for brief scenes of sex and adultery

Published in Dawn, ICON, January 9th, 2022

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