I was recently asked to lead a discussion at Story Board Development on the new crime thriller, House of Gucci. Story Board has been meeting every month in Hollywood since 1981 to analyze the script of a recent movie, so I was not only honored to be invited to this long-running tradition, but giddy to have the chance to dissect this particular screen story… not because I’m into leather handbags and Italian fashion mafia, but because of how House of Gucci is crafted. It’s not your roller coaster ride, shoot ‘em up and leave ‘em in the gutter murder mystery. It’s much more sophisticated than that. But then… that’s Gucci, right?
If you’ve ever taken my crime writing workshops, you know I teach 11 Crime Story Types. I won’t recite them all now, but the last one on the list is The Caper. In The Caper, the criminal is the protagonist and the Good Guy is the antagonist. In The Caper we are rooting for the criminal because we have established a core empathy with her regarding some wrong she has been dealt. The entire plot of The Caper is built around how our criminal makes a plan to “right that wrong” by taking justice into her own hands – usually in the form of committing a vengeance crime. In the end these hero-criminals always succeed, but often at great cost to themselves or loved ones. Well-known examples include: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the entire Oceans series, The Italian Job, and Hell or High Water.
House of Gucci is a classical Caper model. Once we do a deep dive into the character Patrizia Reggiani Gucci, you’ll see why.
Please note my analysis here is based off the script. Not the non-fiction version by Sara Gay Forden, nor the theatrical movie version (I have yet to see it!). I’ll be referring to script pages and particular dialogue from the version of the script I read by Roberto Bentivegna, Version: April 19, 2019.
When creating any piece of crime fiction, you start where real life investigators start. You look at the criminal’s MOM. I’m not talking maternal parent. I’m referring to: Means. Opportunity. Motivation. The main crime in House of Gucci is the murder of Maurizio Gucci by his former wife, Patrizia. Patrizia clearly has the means to hire a murder – she’s uber-wealthy. And she has the opportunity—or access– because she is part of the Gucci circles. It’s this last piece I want to focus on mostly… Patrizia’s motivation for taking down the Gucci family and eventually hiring the murder of her ex-husband. Why and how did Patrizia become a murderer? Why did she kill? What led her to that act?
First, we have to note that the story is told from Patrizia’s POV. There could have been a number of POVs taken to create this story—pick any number of the Gucci clan. But movie makers chose Patrizia’s. Why? Because she’s the outsider to Gucci family (and so are we!). She’s the victim and the criminal. The villain and the heroine.
The entire screen story is centered on unspooling Patrizia’s story and building a case for the motivation of her evil acts…. from even before she ever knew Maurizio.
How do we know this? How do we see this? There are five key indicators we are given within the first 10 pages of the script that tell us everything we need to know about what led Patrizia’s to a life of crime.
1. We get a hint of this motivation right from page one of the script as Patrizia narrates the story. She says: “I just want you to hear my story, to know the facts before they got distorted.” This is a clear identifying trait of The Caper crime story type. The criminal doesn’t think she’s a criminal. And she will always defend her actions as justifiable.
2. Page two, Patrizia casts shade on her soon-to-be in-laws. Here she tries to establish rationale for her motivation. “… that last name [Gucci] was a curse… it belonged to the most terrible of Tuscan families. After the Borgias, the Pazzis, the Medicis… came the Guccis. They didn’t fight over land or crown. They fought over their own skins and those of their sacred cows.”
Patrizia is setting the stage that she is about to enter the danger zone… and she wants us to know why she had to do what she did in order to protect herself and survive.
3. By page three we get a very clear glimpse into the motivation for Patrizia’s selfishness and greed. While these are not legal crimes, they are moral weaknesses that lead to bigger and bigger infractions. Patrizia can’t help the fact that she was raised a gold digger by a gold digging mother. On page three, we meet Silvana, Patrizia’s mother who is chewing her out for shunning a potential (a very rich Count) suitor. She tells Patrizia: “You need to find someone before you lose your looks. How do you think I wrangled your stepfather? Nobody will marry you for your brain, Patrizia.”
Even on page 11, Patrizia admits that she’s been sleeping on her back since age six to avoid facial lines. Who do you think taught her that? She didn’t read it in a fashion mag. Mama Silvana has had a plan for her to marry rich since she was born. Is it no wonder Patrizia eventually goes down the path that she does?
4. Patrizia learns early on how to master criminal activity. At the top of page five we see her stepfather asking Patrizia to forge his signature on a stack of paperwork. This brilliant set up will pay off richly for Patrizia and Maurizio later… and also get them deeply in trouble. But at this point in the story, does Patrizia think she’s going to use this skill to scheme one of the Gucci members out of business? No. Not at all. She doesn’t plan on being a criminal. But all the right skills and moral declines are in the making.
5. By page 10, Silvana has launched a full-blown scheme for Patrizia to go after Maurizio. Patrizia is skeptical at first. She really likes this guy. There’s something different about him. She says: “… there was a sweetness in the air I hadn’t experienced before.” Silvana lights a fire under her daughter, “I raised a woman, not a Buddhist monk…You’re my little tiger, Patrizia. You have to take what’s yours.” From there it’s game-on with Patrizia. This is the moment and the “statement of the theme” that drives our protagonist-criminal… all the way to the end when she kills Maurizio and takes over his elaborate apartment in Milan.
Of course, Patrizia does get her comeuppance, as the history books prove. But the fact of the matter is, Patrizia was always a criminal in the making, whether she knew it or not. And I think she knew not…. At least until the moment she experienced something she desperately loved, admired, and wanted—Maurizio! Once Patrizia got him, she took all the right turns to hold on, becoming more and more corrupt.
This is not to say that Maurizio and the Gucci’s are innocent victims—which you can judge for yourself when you the film. House of Gucci is a glamourous, fascinating, and explosive ride into a world where morality goes unchecked…. and family legacy is the price that is paid.