Score: 2.5 stars **1/2 out of 4 stars ****
During the last quarter century high-end photojournalist Lauren Greenfield has taken breaks and made feature, short, and TV documentaries which act as bookends to her still photos. Although all of her subjects involve money to one degree or another, they also focus on class warfare, wealth envy, body image, and the sex trade. Sharing the name of Greenfield’s mammoth coffee table book of the same name from 2017, “Generation Wealth” serves as her career best of/mix tape. She crams a lot of information into this 106 minute movie and most of the time it works.
The blunt, frank and frequently self-loathing comments coming from the 12 or so principal subjects are delivered with almost shocking, forthright ease which is probably due in part because they’ve already shared close professional quarters with Greenfield before, some of them decades ago. Not a single one of them is particularly proud of their past behavior and not all of them are honestly contrite with any past regrets, sighs, cries, or occasional crocodile tears.
The “wealth” portion takes up about half of the running time and is arguably the most focused. The enigmatic and graying Florian Homm waxes rhapsodic regarding his years as a New York hedge fund manager where he amassed nearly $1 billion and paid for the hooker who claimed his teen son’s virginity. Not one to get into self-incriminating details, Homm — all the while puffing on a huge cigar — delivers his soliloquy from his native Germany fighting extradition to the U.S. on a bevy of felony charges.
Making an appearance are the couple from “The Queen of Versailles,” Greenfield’s 2012 film where time share mogul David Siegel and his wife Jackie set out to build the largest private residence in the country only to be upended by the 2008 recession.
The remainder of the subjects aren’t close to wealthy but spend every waking second of the day either trying in vain to get rich or faking it; spending themselves broke on ostentatious creature comforts and gaudy bling to impress equally-shallow, like-minded others.
Greenfield crosses the pond to visit wannabe upper-crust types in Russian and China — now the top two consuming nations of everything American — the same two countries who finally figured out that socialism basically sucks. One Asian guy with too much coin in the bank has built a full-scale replica of the White House and the view from his back yard is a smaller version of Mount Rushmore. A refined young Chinese lady specializing in etiquette teaches others how to correctly pronounce the names of French designers and how to properly eat a banana — with a knife and fork.
There are other interviewees (most seen previously in “Kids + Money”) who grew up in L.A. and in close proximity to the rich and famous (which included preteen classmates Kate Hudson and Kim Kardashian). None of them achieved greatness as adults but one, Paris Cronin, son of R.E.O. Speedwagon singer Kevin Cronin, describes his own failed attempt at being a rock star, the battles with substance abuse and ultimately the endless joys of becoming a father.
There are a number of stories involving mothers and their children, none of which will ever be the basis for a “Hallmark” TV movie. One works as a concierge in Las Vegas and is defended by her jaded DJ son who repeatedly claims “she’s not a madam.” There’s a stage mom who dresses up her four-year-old daughter like a Vegas showgirl and can’t figure out why people question her child-rearing decisions. One workaholic Wall Street gal turns 40 and realizes she really wants to be a mother after all and spends scads of dough on countless IVF procedures and finally gets her child but loses her husband in the process.
Also addressed is negative body image, first by a bus driver who undergoes multiple knife jobs at once (in South America without anesthesia) for nips, tucks, lifts, and the like in a misguided attempt to better relate to her troubled daughter. A would-be model, disillusioned with being objectified, becomes anorexic while self-mutilating in order to “damage the merchandise.” The film’s most jolting content involves a would-be actress who came to L.A. and like far too many others, drifted into porn, and the strippers at “Magic City” in Atlanta where naked woman crawl on the floor scooping up cash.
In retrospect, Greenfield bit off far more than she could possibly chew, which includes interviewing members of her own family to answer pointed and squirm-inducing questions about her. By trying to address every sin under the sun, Greenfield’s overstuffed film actually feels thin. It’s far from a train wreck but will likely drive many to rush home and take a scalding hot shower after viewing it.
Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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