GENERATION WEALTH – Review
GENERATION WEALTH sounds like it’s about income inequality and the One Percent, but it is not.
While Lauren Greenfield’s documentary starts out with footage of the very rich who are the one-percent of the income scale, it quickly shifts.
Even tagline of Lauren Greenfield’s documentary “The American Dream just keeps getting more expensive” suggests that, but while the documentary does start out with footage of the very rich who at in the upper one-percent of the income scale, it quickly shifts to a different, less lofty picture of wealth, a Kardashians, reality show kind of rich. The film would have been better titled “Generation Excess” as excess is the real subject.
Frankly, the documentary is like a recap of Greenfield’s other films. The documentarian’s works include THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, about the couple building a replica of Versailles in Florida until the 2008 economic crash bankrupted them, THIN, about anorexia, KIDS+MONEY, about the children of the rich. Wealth is a theme here, but it is about the once-wealthy, the wanna-be wealthy, and disease linked to wealthy nations. It is not about the today’s truly wealthy, which is a missed opportunity.
The documentary bathes us in a ocean of excess in the pursuit of either wealth or some popular culture image of perfection. We meet a woman, a school bus driver, whose obsession with plastic surgery bankrupts her and costs her her children, the children of rock stars and movie stars raised with privilege but struggling to get by as adults, a one-time millionaire now hiding out in Europe to avoid jail time, a porn star who was one of Charlie Sheen’s girlfriends, a limo driver who proudly wears pounds of gold jewelry given him by wealth clients. There are the sad young women with anorexia but then the little toddler beauty queens.
After wallowing in this depressing pop culture swamp, one might just want a bath. Instead, the director offers social commentary on the decay of the idea of the American Dream, from an ideal of being a respected pillar of one’s community to being a bling-wearing media figure, from “keeping up with the Joneses” to “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” Greenfield notes that this change began in the ’70s with conspicuous consumption and was solidified in the ’80s when “greed” became “good.” But it really took off with the reality shows of the ’90s.
Yet GENERATION WEALTH does have one more interesting side. While this rambling documentary covers a number of topics that are only marginally connected, it also reveals details of the filmmaker’s own upbringing and background, which speaks volumes about the documentarian and her work. The daughter of an anthropologist and a successful doctor, Greenfield attending an exclusive Southern California private school where her classmates were the children of movie stars and other wealth parents, the very people in the documentary. Greenfield’s anthropologist mother spent long periods of time away from her family, a pattern Greenfield repeated in pursuit of her career. Greenfield often left her young children in the care of her supportive husband, something successful men have done with their supportive wives for generations. This insight on Greenfield and her own family are by far the more engrossing parts of the documentary.
Those who can’t get enough reality-show outrageous-ness might enjoy this tour of the underbelly of fame and fortune. GENERATION WEALTH has a misleading title and it is mostly a recap of Greenfield’s previous documentaries, like a rock band’s “greatest hits” album. It is mostly worth seeing for the insights it offers into what makes this filmmaker tick.
GENERATION WEALTH opens Friday, August 10, at Plaza Frontenac Cinema.
RATING: 2 out of 5 stars