Lauren Greenfield’s overly ambitious new documentary that looks at the myriad negative effects of obscene wealth is intriguing even it lacks the clarity of her previous work such as the rather brilliant Queen of Versailles. Greenfield’s focus is not just with some of the people whose lives have been damaged by their compulsive need to be as materially rich as they can, but also as she turns the camera on herself, she reveals her own lifetime obsession with the subject.
There is little effort on her part not to make this new documentary anything less than a very harsh condemnation of a society and culture that has really perverted the classic American dream. The people she chooses to feature are very easy targets and their treatment on camera are unlikely to create any sympathy at all, but the conclusions that Greenfield draws out are at best convoluted, overly-simplistic and unsupportable.
In her documentary The Queen of Versailles, Greenfield had focused on the obnoxious David and Jackie Segal as they borrowed money they couldn’t afford to try to the biggest private home in the US. The unrepentant Segals re-appear in this new film as Greenfield is talking a long look at her lifetime of work, but the Queen of V movie succeeded because of Greenfield’s uncluttered focus which so perfectly portrayed her idea of the inequities of new wealth.
Some of the subjects of the new film are nothing less than nauseating like the notorious German businessman Florian Homm (currently still on the FBI Most Wanted List) who is so happy to boast that money can buy you anything. Including a prostitute to take his 15-year-old son’ s virginity. Some, however, are obscenely funny as is the films opening clip which shows wealthy Chinese women being taught English by learning to pronounce very crucial vocabulary such as “Louis Vuitton’ and ‘Dolce and Gabbana’.
Interestingly it is her revisits to subjects that she photographed some years ago to see if their lives ever shaped up to their astronomical expectations that make the most compelling viewing as we finally watch reality sinking in.
One of the most interesting strands of Generation Wealth is Greenfield’s fascination with how women often end up paying the steepest price simply because of society’s expectations of them that rarely extend to men.
At the end of the day, this movie that premiered out of competition at Sundance earlier this year tripped over its eagerness to cover such a wide and contentious subject, and despite the fascinating strands to its story, will end up irritating more the entertaining.