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House of Gucci ••••1/2

Movie Greg Scott
House of Gucci


House of Gucci

House of Gucci
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, did you ever think that Lady Gaga and Al Pacino would star in the same movie?

I was Gaga over the Lady, and Al-in on Pacino. Brilliant work. Let’s recap:

We meet Patrizia Reggiani, a young Elizabeth Taylor look alike who works for her father’s trucking company. At a party she encounters Maurizio Gucci, a young law student and heir to the Gucci fortune. Patrizia convinces Maurizio to date her and soon they fall in love and marry. We learn of Patrizia’s ambition to “have everything”. To fulfill this quest, she begins sucking up to Maurizio’s Uncle Aldo.

Maurizio’s father sees Patrizia as a gold digger looking “to get her hooks” into Maurzio and disowns him. Maurizio then asks Patrizia’s father for a job in his trucking company so that he might be able to marry her. After a time Maurizio’s father passes away and he takes over 50% of the Gucci empire. But there are problems – financial and familial – and Patrizia steps in to rebuild the Gucci brand.

​​Greg, about 20 years ago psychologists identified what is known as “the dark triad”. It consists of three malignant psychological conditions: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. If these are the savory ingredients of villainy, the character of Patrizia Reggiani in House of Gucci is the Master Chef.

Patrizia possesses all three qualities but one particularly stands out: Machiavellianism. This trait is characterized by the manipulation and exploitation of others, all in the service of immoral aims. Patrizia first manipulates Maurizio into dating and marrying her. Then she begins applying her dark trade toward the family business, using Uncle Aldo to amass her fortune and pitting the cousins against each other to consolidate it.

Sure, other characters in this drama reek of the dark triad, too – most notably the family attorney, Domenico De Sole, whose powers of manipulating everyone are only recognized by Patrizia, the Queen of manipulation herself. For a long while I thought Maurizio was the only decent human in the story, but even he grows a ruthless side when he financially obliterates Aldo. If nothing else, this movie is One Gigantic Cautionary Tale about the dangers of wealth and fame.

As for the other two legs of the dark triad, Patrizia has more than a few of the telltale characteristics. As befitting a narcissist, she’s quite full of herself and lacks empathy. And consistent with a psychopath, she arranges the murder of her ex-husband and father of her children. I daresay that Patrizia is the most callous and dangerous woman villain we’ve seen in the movies since Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, which (omg) we reviewed way back in 2014.

I had a completely different take on Patrizia. She was portrayed as a dutiful daughter, smart, and sexy. While she had ambitions to improve herself, she loved and married Maurizio when he had nothing to offer. Now, you might argue, she saw a day when Maurizio’s father would die and he would inherit the company, but that’s not on the screen. As far as we can see, she loved Maurizio and stood by him in poverty and wealth.

We also see that she has a shrewd business intellect. She quickly identified Aldos’ self-manufactured knock offs as diminishing the brand. She confronted Aldo and convinced her husband to end that practice. She also identified the flakey fashion designer cousin as both a resource and a liability and used her manipulation skills to simultaneously acquire his shares and eliminate him from Gucci. If she were a man, we’d call her a genius. But as a woman, using psychological techniques, she is marked as manipulative.

In parallel to Patrizia’s growth and the fall from grace, we’re witness to Maurizio’s growth in confidence, largely due to his wife’s guidance and support. Maurizio starts out as a milquetoast – shy and uninterested in the workings of the company. Once he falls in love with Patrizia, she begins guiding him until he achieves a level of confidence that he questions the need for his wife, and he divorces her. His confidence then rises to a level of arrogance that surpasses that of his father and uncle. This arrogance ultimately leads to the loss of his company to a foreign investor led by his closest legal advisor.

Once Maurizio separates from Patrizia, she becomes obsessed with getting her husband back and descends into madness and revenge. She hires a hitman (through her personal psychic) who kills Maurizio so that she can inherit what’s left of Gucci. That leads to her final demise of being tried and convicted of murder.

In my mind, this is an anti-hero story. Patrizia starts out good, is betrayed, and then falls into villainy. If Maurizio had not betrayed her, she might have led Gucci to a renaissance that would rival that of the other fine Italian fashion houses. Instead, it was taken over by foreign investors and today no member of the Gucci family is involved in the business. Patrizia is the fallen, tragic hero of this story.

You’re absolutely right, Greg, that this is a story of a dark transformation toward anti-heroism. It’s been said that if you want your enemies to suffer, then hope and pray that they win the lottery. Money, fame, and power have a terrible, damaging effect on human beings. Everyone in this film becomes the worst version of themselves as a result of their wealth and social clout. The one character who remains pretty benign despite one setback after another is the clueless cousin Paolo. He becomes easy roadkill at the hands of the Guccis.

You mention that if Patrizia were a man she would be considered a genius instead of a psychopath. I say she can be both, just as many evil men have been both. Remember, five of the Great Eight traits of heroes are also traits of villains. These five attributes are smart, strong, resilient, charismatic, and inspiring. The three traits that separate heroes from villains are traits tapping into the dimension of morality — selfless, caring, and reliable.

As far as rating this movie, I would say that it comes VERY close to earning 5 out of 5 Reels but I’m going to take a Reel off for a few key omissions that I would have liked to have seen — for example we never see exactly how or why Maurizio undergoes a dark transformation. I give the movie 4 out of 5 Reels. The hero ensemble here is extraordinary, with Lady Gaga, Adam Drive, Jared Leto, and Al Pacino all delivering their best work. They deserve 5 out of 5 Hero points.

I went into House of Gucci with no prior knowledge of the story nor any expectations. I thought it was a rags to riches story, and what I ended up with was true crime. I was very pleasantly surprised. I’ve read that the Italian accents were terrible. I’m not an expert on such things, so that wasn’t a concern for me.

I’ve only seen Lady Gaga in A Star is Born and she was wonderful. But that wasn’t much of a stretch for her as she was playing a rock star, which is close to who she really is. But here, she’s playing a completely different character – and knocks it out of the park. Every dimension of Patrizia is completely believable – kindness, sex appeal, manipulation, savvy – all of it is so sharply and seamlessly delivered. I think Gaga is destined for the fabled EGOT. She’s amazing.

One thing that I noticed about the direction is how Gaga is filmed. In the beginning of the film, she’s shot in a middling way – from the front. As she grows in confidence and power, we get close ups of her, she fills the screen. She becomes bigger. And once she’s cast away, she’s shot from above – making her look small, especially as compared to a towering Driver. It’s an impressive choice by the director.

Other performances by Leto and Pacino are brilliant as well. I never recognize Leto until I see the credits, and then have to reflect on what I saw. He melts into the role and give a tertiary character a depth that would have been lost to a lesser actor. Pacino, I feel, has no need to stretch in this role – which makes him all the more believable. Adam Driver is wooden and clumsy in this role. Which works to his advantage as Maurizio is likewise wooden and clumsy. I wish I could attribute this to Driver’s skill, but I think he likewise had no need to stretch.

For a compelling anti-hero story, well-written, superbly acted, and beautifully shot, I give House of Gucci 5 out of 5 Reels. And for an uncommon fall-from-grace anti-hero story, I give it 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie Greg Scott
House of Gucci