Five years ago, I held Sarah Gay Forden’s book “The House of Gucci” in my hand in a bookstore in Bangkok. Hours later, I did not manage to put the book down and read it over the course of only a few days. I was fascinated to learn about the history of the brand – from the founding years under Guccio Gucci who started to sell leather products from Tuscany in London where he worked as a doorman, to the brand’s global expansion under Aldo Gucci (which also lead to the brand’s decline), to the revival of one of the biggest luxury brands in the world.
In addition to a very captivating family history (with lots of drama involved in the family business), the book also covered the murder of Maurizio Gucci by his wife Patrizia. The couple got married despite the disagreement of his father Rodolfo. The latter thought Patrizia was a social who just wanted to marry his shy and insecure son Maurizio for his status and money. (The book made it quite clear that she may have been exactly that.) Before Rodolfo’s death, however, father and son made peace. Patrizia always pulled many strings when it came to the management of the Gucci brand and in a way guided Maurizio in certain areas. In the end, the couple drifted apart and Maurizio asked for a divorce and Patrizia had him assassinated at the steps of his apartment in Milan. Patricia was sentenced to 29 years in prison, of which she served 18. She was released at the age of 72 in 2016.
I thought the book had the perfect balance of entrepreneurial insights, an interesting peek into one of the most glamorous family brands in the world and just the right amount of drama. Naturally, I was counting the days until the movie was released. The cast promised a lot – Lady Gaga as Patrizia, Adam Driver as Maurizio, Jeremy Irons as Rodolfo, Al Pacino as Aldo, Jared Leto as Paolo. Who would not be excited? So let’s discuss, if “The House of Gucci” is worth watching.
First of all, the cast did not disappoint. Lady Gaga did an amazing job as Patrizia Reggiani (she deserves an Oscar for this role). It took me quite a while to recognize Jared Leto as Paolo – Leto is a true Chamaeleon and it speaks for his acting skills that you see none other than Paolo and not “Jared Leto playing Paolo”.
At first, I was a bit skeptical about the cast speaking with Italian accents. After some time, I got used to it and almost forgot about it. However, I still do not understand why the movie was done that way – “accent-free” English would have been just fine, this is what we are used to from Hollywood productions, irrespective of the locations of the story. I would have understood the accents if they had been the natural accents of Italian actors. Which raises another question: most of the Italian actors took over only minor roles. I would like to know why there were no local actors cast for the “core group” of the movie.
It is always a challenge to squeeze an entire book into a movie, especially a detailed and comprehensive one like “The House of Gucci”. I had assumed that the focus of the movie would be more on the drama between Patrizia and Maurizio rather than on the business-side of Gucci. And I was right. Most parts of the brand development of the brand were left out or only mentioned briefly. The movie focused on the struggles of the brand after the global expansion under Aldo (which had heavily damaged the brand allure) up until the takeover by Domenico De Sole and Tom Ford shortly before Maurizio’s death. This is unsurprising as this is the time period of Patrizia and Maurizio’s love story ending in his assassination. Nevertheless, I would have appreciated a bit more details from the beginning of the brand. It is briefly mentioned during a conversation at Aldo’s house that the brand was started by Guccio. However, it is rather in the context that Aldo tried to sell the Gucci’s as Italian nobility. Maurizio later on complains about this to Patrizia and says that his grandfather was a simple doorman in London. Hence, the genius steps Guccio Gucci took for the family empire do not come across.
I think those who have not read the book miss out on a lot of interesting facts which explain the drama and tensions within the Gucci family in the seventies and eighties. Given that the movie is almost three hours long, I think there would have been some time to offer a bit more background information. Nevertheless, I understand that movies have to be selective and that drama sells more tickets than a “dry” family business history. However, some viewers who had not read the book complained that the movie takes way too long to come to its point: the murder sequence is about 20 minutes of the movie. Despite the title “The House of Gucci” most people probably only associated the murder case with the movie which then, naturally, falls short. I personally did not find it too long or imbalanced. BUT, I had all the background information from the book and I knew what legacies from the past lead to certain actions by which character.
One thing I really did not appreciate was the exaggeration of Jared Leto’s character Paolo. I think Paolo was given much more weight in the movie than in the book. Aldo’s son never came up to the expectations of his father or his uncle Rodolfo. The fact that he (unsuccessfully) tried to establish himself as a designer and that he was ultimately denied the right to use the Gucci name was also dealt with in the book. But again, I think that the directors wanted to add a comic element to the movie – after being humiliated by his uncle Rodolfo, Paolo urinates on one of the silk scarves his uncle had turned into a global success. (This was clearly made up by the screenwriters to engage the audience.) While I think Jared Leto did a great job with the role (Paolo was indeed a hilarious character), I think it was misleading to draw so much attention to him.
Another interesting detail: In the movie, Patrizia and Maurizio only have one daughter, Alessandra. Their second daughter Allegra is not mentioned. She was obviously “edited” out to streamline the movie. I do not really understand the reason why – does it really matter if there is one daughter or if there are two?
Even though the movie tried to not glorify Patrizia (Lady Gaga explicitly mentioned it in an interview), I think the movie fails at this attempt. The movie portrayed her as a confident and savvy business woman (which she may have been) and Maurizio as a weakling. While the power dynamics was the same in the book, Maurizio did not come across as weak – he just had different strengths (those of a lawyer) and a more closed personality. The movie was in my opinion a bit too extreme – the viewers may get the impression that without Patrizia, Maurizio would have failed with the business and that many decisions within the company (e.g. the decision to stop licensing the brand) were entirely Patrizia’s ideas. The book left this more open (and more realistic) – a brand like Gucci is never run by one person only, it is a combination of the decision of the owners, expert advice and different strategies applied. Patrizia may have given some impulses to that. But after reading the book, I would not have glorified her as a great business woman. If I had not read the book, however, I would not be sure about that.
Furthermore, by watching the movie, you would think that her motive for the murder had just been mere jealousy (and probably her hurt ego). However, the book gave many more insights into Patrizia’s personality. She was indeed hurt by the divorce and by her husband’s infidelity. But the book also portrayed Patrizia in an even crazier way than the movie (I know, it is hard to imagine). She did not have him assassinated only because he left her (and because she feared that she would lose status and money) – Patrizia had gone down a spiral of dangerous feelings and obsessions which, in the end, made her a murderer. The book displayed her character more thoroughly and definitely does not encourage the reader to sympathize with her.
Overall, I think the movie succeeded in portraying the relationship of Patrizia and Maurizio and most of the drama within the Gucci family. Maybe those who have not read the book do not have the expectation of getting a lot of insights into the brand’s development and, consequently, do not miss it as much as I did.
Let’s focus on the reason why we are all here: the fashion. I absolutely loved it! A revival of the seventies and eighties is tricky but this movie definitely managed to bring them back in style. Lady Gaga’s suit-and-skirt combos, the colours and all the big gold jewellery were just a joy to look at. Even though I am not a big skier, I did love her black skiing outfit – again paired with lots and lots of chunky gold jewellery. (I could do without the white fur hat though…). My favourite outfit was the white lace dress with a black belt which Patrizia wore to Aldo’s birthday party.
Likewise, Adam Driver’s outfits had just the right amount of accuracy in terms of the “real” seventies and eighties with a contemporary touch. I am not sure how many men could pull this style off, but I loved the turtleneck-suit combos.
Overall, fashion-wise the movie is a true success and a pleasure to watch. Kudos to the stylists. The beautiful locations chosen for the movie complemented all the amazing outfits.
When I left the theatre, I had mixed feelings at first. Did I like the movie? Did it come up to the book? Would I watch it again? At first, I would have said that I would probably not watch it again – I was a bit disappointed that it did not come up to the book. However, I am always (or most of the times) disappointed when I watch a movie adaptation of the book. Thinking about it right now, I will definitely watch the movie again – even if it is only for admiring the great outfits and letting me travel to Italy in my mind.
“The House of Gucci” is a must for everybody who is interested in fashion, luxury and family businesses. If you are interested in the latter however, I do recommend the book for a more comprehensive view.
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Picture source of the title image: MGM Studios